By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON: Fox News’ Sean Hannity, that paragon of journalistic integrity, hosted six “average Americans” on his show this month who were “feeling the pain” of Obamacare.
One was Paul Cox, who runs a North Carolina construction business and complained that the new law prevented him from hiring full-time employees because he would have to provide health insurance to anybody working more than 30 hours a week.
“We’ve had to keep them below 30 hours or we wouldn’t be able to … stay in business and pay it,” Cox said.
“It’s happening all the time,” Hannity contributed.
If by “it” Hannity meant “misinforming the American public,” then, yes, it is happening all the time.
Salon’s Eric Stern called Cox, and he found that Cox’s business has only four employees — and therefore is not affected by the new requirement, which applies to businesses with 50 or more workers. Stern reported that after he asked Cox how this decision not to hire full-time workers was related to Obamacare, “There was a long pause, after which he said he’d call me back. He never did.” The others on Hannity’s program were similarly off-base.
This is perhaps the biggest problem facing Obamacare and probably will haunt it long after the technical problems at HealthCare.gov are fixed. Because of all the noise and disinformation, President Obama and the Democrats don’t just own Obamacare as a political issue. They own health care. Anytime something bad happens — premiums rise, or employers change plans or pare coverage — Obamacare will be blamed, even if the new law had nothing to do with the change.
“It’s one of the most frustrating things,” says Brad Woodhouse, the former Democratic National Committee official who runs Americans United for Change. “If anybody has a problem with health care, Republicans say it has to be a problem with Obamacare.”
Does Woodhouse believe Democrats now own health care? “In some ways we probably do, which is unfair,” he said. “Nobody said Obamacare was a panacea for everything.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, architect of the attempt to defund Obamacare that led to the government shutdown, said the health care law has caused “skyrocketing health insurance premiums” for “virtually every person across this country.” In fact, premiums were up about 4 percent last year, a much slower growth rate than the average annual increase of 13.2 percent between 1999 and 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But it’s easy to blame Obamacare for something that would have happened anyway.
Likewise, Cruz and others have cited the case of UPS dropping coverage for 15,000 of its employees’ spouses, because the spouses can get health insurance from their own employers. UPS did blame its move on Obamacare — but it’s the same sort of thing employers have done for years. Long before Obamacare, as many as a quarter of all businesses each year made reductions in health care coverage; the only difference is now businesses can blame Obamacare.
Another charge, that Obamacare is a “job killer” because it discourages hiring full-time workers, has been supported by statistics showing the bulk of recent hiring has been for part-time jobs. In reality, according to an analysis by Moody’s, factors other than Obamacare were at work (most of the new jobs were in industries that always use more part-time workers). But the new law gets the blame.
Attributing all manner of evil to Obamacare has led to some strange results. The same Republicans who forced the government shutdown and a near default trying to do away with Obamacare are now furious that technology problems are keeping more people from enrolling in the program.
Their outrage has not been softened by the knowledge that the bulk of the sign-up problems has been in the states led by critics of the law who refused to cooperate with the federal government on the rollout. Essentially, Republicans are complaining about flaws created in part by their own sabotage.
It may not be fair, but there’s no point in complaining. Democrats own health care — all of it. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who just had heart bypass surgery, declared that he “probably wouldn’t be here” if Obamacare were in full effect, because, the 79-year-old senator said, he might not have been eligible for the emergency operation.
That’s quite an accusation, but why stop there? If Inhofe really believes Obamacare kills, he could pretape a message, to be released after he dies, blaming his demise on the health-care law. He could even preorder a tombstone. It would say, “I told you so.”
Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. Follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.