Obamacare and the workforce

February 26, 2014

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Obamacare is having a big impact on the workforce, one that's estimated to result in 2.5 million workers leaving their jobs by 2024.

Among the top stories on cnn.com today is that of Karen Willmus, a 51-year-old 9th grade English teacher from Colorado who plans to quit teaching at the end of the school year and start her own business with her teenage daughter. The catalyst? Obamacare.

Willmus is among those individuals we hear about who are finding very affordable health care — even more so than the coverage provided by her employer — for the first time, thanks to Obamacare.

Willmus’s story is at the opposite end of the spectrum from that of my dermatologist’s nurse, whom I’ll call Sarah.

Sarah’s monthly premium for her family of five has increased, along with the deductible, to become unaffordable, thanks to Obamacare. Sarah’s solution? She also is quitting her job and going back to school for her master’s. She needs the higher degree to afford higher premiums, and, with her no longer in the workforce, her family likely will be able to afford Obamacare.

Both Karen and Sarah illustrate a side effect of Obamacare that has some in the business community worried — workers are quitting their jobs or cutting hours to ensure that they pay lower rates for Obamacare.

As noted in the cnn.com article, a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office found that “Obamacare could reduce the labor force by the equivalent of 2.5 million workers by 2024 as many Americans may opt to work less to retain eligibility for Medicaid or subsidies.”

But if nothing else, Obamacare is giving some people the ability to quit jobs they felt bound to by health care costs. Also profiled in the cnn.com article was Craig Mason, 59, who said he has felt tied to his job as an engineer with a large defense contractor because he and his wife needed health insurance. Because Mason is a diabetic, he could not afford coverage on the individual market—before Obamacare.

Now Mason is thinking of leaving his job in a few years “to focus more on his side job, repairing and building guitars and other string instruments” and “to spend more time with his grandchildren.” He believes Obamacare “may be just the vehicle to bridge the gap until (he’s) eligible for Medicare.”

Will Obamacare lead to happier, healthier citizens at the expense of the economy? Is that paradigm sustainable? Something to think about.

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