Hayes and panel: Are CEOs bluffing about Obamacare firings?

By David Ferguson
Saturday, November 24, 2012 12:44 EDT
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Chris Hayes on Obamacare
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On Saturday morning’s edition of “Up with Chris Hayes,” host Chris Hayes and a panel including Joy Reid of “The Reid Report,” “Lincoln” screenwriter Tony Kushner, Bloomberg columnist Josh Barro, chief medical officer of Chicago’s John Stoger Hospital Claudia Fegen, “health care wonk” Dr. Donald Berwick and Yale professor Jacob Hacker discussed Republican obstruction to the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

President Barack Obama was re-elected in November by historic margins, meaning that a majority of Americans favor the president and his policies. Nonetheless, Republicans are poised to strip as many provisions out of Obamacare as they can get away with and to fight the law’s implementation around the country.

“The matter is never settled,” said Hayes. “There’s going to be battles at every step of the way on implementation.”

Republicans, he said, want to weaken the law and thereby reduce its chances of success.

One place where there has been a great deal of resistance to the law is in the business community. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) was one of the plaintiffs that filed suit against the Affordable Care Act. Huffington Post‘s Daniel Froomkin pointed out in September that the NFIB is in fact a front group for the same interests that fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and that the group more often promotes the interests of major corporations over small businesses.

Some employers in the wake of the election have threatened to fire workers or reduce full time workers to part time status in order to avoid providing government-mandated health care to employees.

“The person who’s become the figurehead for this resistance,” said Hayes, “is the Papa John’s CEO, John Schattner.”

Schattner said before and after the election that Papa John’s franchisees will be cutting employee hours to avoid paying for their health coverage, then in recent days, he has attempted to walk that back, saying that staffing and employee issues are left up to the individual owners of Papa John’s stores and that there’s nothing he can do about it.

Hayes asked the panel whether they believe that other CEOs will follow suit, whether they will make good on their threats to fire and demote workers, or whether, in the end, all of their talk is just bluster.

Barro spoke first, saying that there are two paths for businesses with more than 50 employees under the law, that they can obey the law or choose instead to pay a $2,000 fee per employee, which some employers may find preferable, although it will make the act more expensive to the government as they subsidize those employees. The real threat, he said, is to workers being reduced to part time.

Hacker pointed out that over the last decade, fewer and fewer employers have been offering health care anyway, a trend that looks likely to continue, but that Republicans will likely blame of the Affordable Care Act.

Berwick opined that the system needs even more reform to bring costs down to a more reasonable level. As it is, he said, the burden of paying for employee health care could end up being too great for some businesses.

The current economy, said Reid, allows for people like Papa John’s CEO Schattner to be cavalier about employee welfare. With a surplus of labor on hand, his company can afford to let employees go who ask for more than their bosses care to provide. They’re easily replaced by people who are willing to do the job on the employers’ terms.

“But as the economy improves,” Reid said, “and now you have a more scarce supply of labor, offering health insurance actually becomes an incentive for businesses to hire quality employees.”

Fegen pointed out that the majority of uninsured people in the U.S. are working people, and that the whole notion of linking health coverage to employment came about as an incentive to inspire worker loyalty to companies during the stateside labor shortage during World War II.

Watch the clip, embedded below via MSNBC:

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David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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