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The Washington Post reports that Trader Joe's has informed part-time employees working less than 30 hours a week that they are losing their health insurance benefits, and instead will be given $500 to help them purchase coverage from the new public insurance marketplaces that are coming online.

“Depending on income earned outside of Trader Joe’s, we believe that with the $500 from Trader Joe’s and the tax credits available under the ACA (the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare), many crew members should be able to obtain health-care coverage at very little, if any, net cost,” the company said in a statement to Bloomberg, which writes that "the move makes Trader Joe’s the latest U.S. employer to cut benefits or reduce hours in response to the 2010 act, which requires companies to offer affordable coverage to full-time workers starting in 2014. Trader Joe’s, the owner of about 400 stores, said most of the affected employees will find a better deal on the health-law exchanges, where buyers may be eligible for federal subsidies."

Bloomberg notes that Trader Joe's is one of several companies - UPS and IBM among them - that "have pulled back on health benefits citing the law’s expenses and new insurance options among their reasons."

And the Washington Post writes, in analyzing the move: "As for what Trader Joe’s decision means for the health-care law, that’s not clear either. On the one hand, it likely makes the health law more expensive: Trader Joe’s is essentially shifting the costs it used to pay for health insurance onto the federal government. On the other hand, bigger marketplaces are good for the health law. More subscribers make it more likely that insurers will want to sell and, if Trader Joe's employees tend to be younger, they’ll likely help hold down the cost of premiums there."
KC's View:
Any discussion of this subject, I suspect, is going to veer into partisan politics and therefore not be very illuminating.

It strikes me that several things are clear about the Affordable Care Act - one of which is that very few people actually understand it. (I count myself among this group.) Polls show that relatively few people understand it, few people think it will reduce costs, and few people believe it will improve the quality of their care. I've seen some reports that suggest that, in fact, heath care cost increases are beginning to flatten out. Some people would dispute this, and would argue that even if this is happening, reducing the rate of cost increases is not exactly the same as reducing costs. I also think that even supporters of ACA would concede that what they see as the bill's advantages have not been clearly communicated (and opponents would say that's probably because there are not any advantages).

My feeling is this. ACA is the law. At best, it is a flawed law, and I would hope that the flaws can be fixed by the government in a way that is thoughtful and considered and responsible. (I recognize that this is likely to be a fruitless hope.) I also think that there are some things that have been positives, so far - mandating the coverage of pre-existing conditions, and the coverage of young people until age 26. (Both have been significant to my family.)

I also would submit that Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has a point when he makes the following point in an interview that runs today in USA Today:

On balance, I would say the health care law, to provide health insurance for those people who did not have it, was a good thing for the country and a good thing for those people, and I would encourage them to find ways to provide the insurance and not figure out a way to either lower the hours or get around the system .... I think we have a greater responsibility beyond just the (profit and loss) of our business, to do the right thing not only for our employees, but the communities we serve, to try and make a difference beyond just making money. I say this through the lens of being a CEO of a public company, recognizing that I have a significant fiduciary responsibility to make a profit and build shareholder value. But after 30 years of being in this seat, what I've learned is that we can make a profit and perhaps do even greater by also demonstrating to multiple constituencies that we mean well in the world.