Their opinion: Empowering workers to pursue other jobs


The Patriot Ledger of Quincy (Mass.), Oct. 8, 2013

With Congress on an inane shutdown over tea party Republicans' opposition to the Affordable Care Act, it's easy to forget the good things the law can do for millions of Americans, and why a milestone in Obamacare's implementation, should be celebrated.

We know the ACA will provide opportunities for the uninsured millions previously denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions or priced out of the private insurance market. These people will now be able to shop online at state insurance exchanges for coverage that cannot be denied them. Premium prices are generally lower than previously available to individual buyers, made even more affordable by subsidies available for those earning up to four times the federal poverty level.

But let's consider what Obamacare will do for another group of Americans largely left out of the debate: people who have insurance but have been afraid to lose it.

Consider the person who is unhappy in his or her job, but can't afford to lose its employer-provided insurance. Maybe he's always wanted to start a business of his own, but he has young children at home that can't go without insurance. Maybe she'd like to switch to part-time work, or move to another city to take a promising new job. But the new job doesn't come with insurance, and she'd likely be denied coverage in the individual market because of her medical history.

Economists have a term for this: job lock. It applies to people whose careers are blocked simply because they cannot afford to lose the health insurance their families depend on.

The impact of job lock is difficult to measure. One study, comparing "job-locked" workers to those who get insurance through their spouse's employer or have other alternatives, found that job-to-job mobility is as much as 25 percent higher when the insurance restriction is removed.

Thus the Affordable Care Act empowers employees to pursue other job opportunities. It makes it easier for small companies that don't offer health insurance to compete for the best workers. It emboldens entrepreneurs and risk-takers, who no longer must sacrifice their families' health care to take a shot at self-employment. Some predict the elimination of job lock could lead to a new wave of job creation. It may encourage others to retire early or transition to part-time work before they become eligible for Medicare.

The cost of job lock isn't measured just in dollars and cents, but in dreams deferred, ambitions stifled and opportunities missed. We don't know how many Americans have been waiting for Obamacare to free them from the insurance policies holding them back, but we know it's neither fair nor necessary to postpone their freedom another year -- the latest demand from the House Republicans who are determined to strangle Obamacare in its cradle.

Health exchanges have opened across the country. If it weren't for all the political noise emanating from Capitol Hill, you might be able to hear the sound of a million job locks clicking open.


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