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Does Obamacare mean more jobs for senior citizens?

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POSTED November 5, 2012 8:18 p.m.

It’s called the Heath Care for America plan.

But it might become known as the Senior Citizen Supplemental Employment Act.

A number of companies - including Pillar Hotels & Resorts - are starting to target folks that are not only willing to accept part-time employment but are likely to be content working less than 30 hours a week. That way they can avoid the mandate insurance requirement looming on the horizon for full-time employees and do so in such a manner that they don’t set the stage for high employee turnover from workers who really need full-time jobs.

It is an unintended consequence - or benefit depending upon how you look at it - of the health insurance law passed by congress that has been dubbed Obamacare.

The fear that retailers and the hospitality industry will take a wholesale approach and whittle back permanent employees and replace them with part-time folks to avoid the mandatory insurance threshold is not a universal given. A number of firms such as Costco, Panera Bread, an Marriott International have made it clear they do not intend to change employee hours to avoid insurance costs.

That said, there are a number of firms that are actively pursuing that option.

CKE Restaurants, which encompasses Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, back in September started replacing full-time employees that leave with part-time workers. CKE offers limited-benefit insurance currently but Obamacare outlaws those policies once 2014 rolls round due to low caps on benefit payouts. The end result will mean that CKE will create more low paying jobs - roughly four for every three full-time workers that depart. But it means they will have to settle for less than 30 hours a week as opposed to 40 hours a week.

Reduced work hours may be the biggest economic price for the health care plan.

It’s too bad the health care debate wasn’t framed correctly. Instead of looking at it as providing affordable health care that employers can put in place or individuals can buy it should have been approached as the need to reduce health care costs. The two are not necessarily interchangeable.

When insurance coverage picks up the tab for routine preventative items that are comparably low cost on the open market, costs rise.

Let’s say it was decided that it was a crucial health concern for the government to make sure that every American had a daily supply of toothpaste. It would not make toothpaste affordable to more Americans by requiring insurance companies to cover the cost. While it may make the toothpaste “free” for the insured, it would take up the cost significantly for whoever is ultimately picking up the tab as a lot of costs come with processing claims.

But if the government were to buy and distribute toothpaste through non-profits that reach the most economically distressed people, such as food closets, the cost would be lower.

That wouldn’t guarantee that everyone would then use toothpaste and brush their teeth to prevent costly dental problems from developing. Neither would having toothpaste covered by insurance.

There is little doubt health care has become less and less affordable as we have come up with more and more ways to prolong life.

Our current system doesn’t necessarily limit care based on the price of that care. At the same time our steadfast collective refusal to take an active role in keeping ourselves healthy and instead of relying on a pill and such to reverse the effects of bad habits overnight adds to the cost.

Yes, all health care needs are not behavior based. Genetics play a big role too.

There are no penalties, though, for behavior that goes counter to responsible health care. As a result, insurance is no longer a protection by limiting our financial exposure against abnormally high cost events such as hernia surgery, heart attacks, and such. Instead it has been reduced to covering more and more routine and pedestrian costs while at the same time we keep engaging in behavior that is counterproductive to good health.

Where we go from here will be interesting to say the least.

No one, though, should be surprised if a fairly large number of full-time jobs morph into part-time jobs in the coming months.

It may not be what the politicians ordered but sometimes perceived good medicine can do more harm than good.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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