SPEA research: Affordable Care Act didn’t cause loss of full-time jobs

New studies co-authored by Indiana University researchers push back against one of the most persistent criticisms of the Affordable Care Act: that its requirement for employers to provide health care coverage would push workers out of full-time jobs.

The studies, published this week in the journal Health Affairs, draw on analyses of workforce and labor statistics to conclude there was little shift from full-time to part-time work – and no significant reduction in hours worked – after the employer mandate took effect in 2015.

Kosali Simon

Kosali Simon

“Whatever changes that have happened have been small,” Kosali Simon, a professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and a co-author of the studies, told Marketplace radio.

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with 100 or more employees were required starting in 2015 to offer health insurance to full-time workers, defined as those who work 30 or more hours per week. Critics said the mandate was sure to cause a large shift from full-time to part-time work and a reduction in hours worked by part-time employees.

Another prediction was that the expansion of Medicaid benefits provided by the health-care law in some states would cause low-paid employees to work fewer hours or quit jobs in order to qualify.

The Health Affairs articles concluded that neither result has panned out in large measure — or at least there is no statistically significant evidence of it.

One article, “Little Change Seen in Part-Time Employment as a Result of the Affordable Care Act,” was written by Simon with Asako S. Moriya and Thomas M. Selden of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Drawing on Census Bureau data, the researchers found no statistically significant shift from full-time to part-time work and no significant increase in people working under 30 hours per week.

The study did find a small increase in the likelihood of working part time among two groups of workers: those with little education and those between ages 60 and 64.

A second Health Affairs article, “Medicaid Expansion Did Not Result in Significant Employment Changes or Job Reductions in 2014,” was authored by SPEA doctoral student Angshuman Gooptu, Simon, Moriya and Benjamin D. Sommers of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study looked at whether the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act caused low-paid workers to quit their jobs or work fewer hours in order to qualify for benefits. Quitting a job could be bad; but it also could be beneficial, freeing workers from “job lock” and letting them try something new.

Either way, the study found little evidence it was happening.

“Medicaid expansion did not result in significant changes in employment, job switching, or full- versus part-time status,” the authors write. “While we cannot exclude the possibility of small changes in these outcomes, our findings … suggest that the Medicaid expansion has had limited impact on labor-market outcomes thus far.”

In addition to the Marketplace story, the research has produced media coverage by CNBC, Buzzfeed, The Washington Post and other news outlets.

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