On Tuesday, President Obama devoted 16 minutes to making the case for some unspecified action in Syria under conditions yet to be determined. After seeing the new CNN/ORC poll, one wonders whether it is time for a speech on the merits of the Affordable Care Act. According to the poll (conducted September 6-8), 6 percent favor all of the ACA and another 33 percent favor most of the ACA. Combined, some 39 percent favor some or all of the ACA. In contrast, 37 percent oppose most of the ACA and another 20 percent oppose all of the ACA. A total of 57 percent oppose some or all of the ACA (4 percent had no opinion). The trend in public opinion should be of some concern for advocates of the Affordable Care Act. In January 2013—nine short months ago—51 percent favored some or all of the ACA; 44 percent opposed some or all of the ACA. One might argue that this is simply a product of the ongoing GOP attacks on Obamacare in Congress. But given the low approval ratings for the Congress, I have my doubts.
More likely, as implementation approaches, people are facing greater uncertainty over a number of things, including (1) what their employers might do in response; (2) whether the costs of insurance will increase; (3) whether the coverage under their existing plans will change. While there has been a steady stream of assurances that things will only get better under Obamacare, there have also been ongoing stories regarding the difficulties in setting up the exchanges, whether certain insurance policies (e.g., high deductible, low premium plans) will be acceptable, and whether companies will respond strategically to the ACA by cutting their full time employees or changing benefits for part-time employees.
The most recent story in this last category involves Trader Joe’s. As Dave Jamieson (Huffington Post) reports:
After extending health care coverage to many of its part-time employees for years, Trader Joe’s has told workers who log fewer than 30 hours a week that they will need to find insurance on the Obamacare exchanges next year, according to a confidential memo from the grocer’s chief executive.
In the memo to staff dated Aug. 30, Trader Joe’s CEO Dan Bane said the company will cut part-timers a check for $500 in January and help guide them toward finding a new plan under the Affordable Care Act. The company will continue to offer health coverage to workers who carry 30 hours or more on average.
For many, this comes as something of a shock given that Trader Joe’s had been celebrated for providing health care benefits to its part-time workforce as part of a larger corporate philosophy. It’s benefits policy states: “Because we know that quality benefits play a vital role in promoting the health and well-being of our Crew Members and their families, Trader Joe’s offers medical, dental, and vision coverage to eligible Full Time and Part Time Crew Members.”
Trader Joe’s decision should not come as a surprise. Public policies often displace private sector activities. My prediction: Trader Joe’s will not be the last large company that makes this decision in light of the Affordable Care Act and news like this may only strengthen the opposition to Obamacare.
If President Obama is correct and the Affordable Care Act will significantly improve the lives of Americans by increasing access to health care and bending the cost curve, perhaps he should use the bully pulpit to deliver that message. My only advice: don’t give the speech in front of Trader Joe’s.