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A No-Growth Obamacare Christmas?

Obama's "signature achievement" may help bring growth to a halt even before it takes effect.

by
Tom Blumer

Bio

November 4, 2013 - 12:40 pm

obama_christmas_gift_10-31-13-2

As the economy’s slowdown has become more visible, retailers have become increasingly nervous about this year’s Christmas shopping season. Obamacare may soon push them into a full panic.

Signs of nervousness abound. On October 3, the National Retail Federation announced that it expects “sales in the months of November and December to marginally increase 3.9 percent” over last year, slightly above the past decade’s average. But on October 16, its consumer spending survey came back saying that “the average holiday shopper will spend $737.95 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and more, two percent less than the $752.24 they actually spent last year.”

That either means that Americans are going to make up for what they don’t spend on gifts with more everyday purchases, or that there was a serious two-week decay in prospects for the final two months of the year. I’d say the odds are with the latter.

In Greater Cincinnati, stores were already aggressively selling Christmas decorations and knick-knacks in early October. Nationally, Christmas-themed TV ads were on the air almost a week before Halloween. Furiously chasing after their pieces of a stagnant pie, both Macy’s and JC Penney announced that they will open on Thanksgiving evening for reportedly the first time in their respective histories.

The post-shutdown economic data trickling out of Washington reinforces retailers’ anxiousness. September’s retail sales, announced on October 29, were “unimpressive.” Acting as if every American’s mood hangs on the back-and-forth in Washington, the press blamed the 17 percent government shutdown, even though it hadn’t even begun, and even though very few Americans paid much attention to it until it was almost two weeks old. Sorry, guys. As was the case with the government’s jobs report released a week earlier, September’s sales were weak because the economy was already weak, and getting weaker.

ADP’s National Employment Report released on October 30 gave us an idea of how much weaker. It told us that the private sector added only 130,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in October — less than half as many as in February. It was the fourth consecutive declining result. September and August were both revised sharply downward.

Mark Zandi, the ADP report’s chief economist, said in the report’s conference call that “the government shutdown and debt limit brinkmanship hurt the already softening job market,” though he at least had the integrity to say “there’s no proof positive” to support his assertion. The Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, predictably failed to include Zandi’s qualifier. Anyone insisting on exercising the shutdown excuse should have to acknowledge that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama could have prevented or ended it by respectively passing and signing House bills which would have kept the government running. But they didn’t.

Now here comes Obamacare.

The main problem isn’t the mind-boggling incompetence in the rollout of HealthCare.gov, or the hysterical blame shifting in which the left has engaged since this “Big Dig” of IT failures debuted. In fact, HealthCare.gov’s failure has thus far softened, but will not prevent, Obamacare’s potentially crushing economic blow.

That blow will come from the millions of Americans in the individual insurance market who have learned or will shortly learn that they will have a lot less discretionary income to spend next year. That’s because Obama’s contemptuous promise that they could keep their “Acme Insurance … a high deductible catastrophic plan,” and that they “would not be required to get the better one,” was a lie. That broken promise went beyond his now well-known “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” fiction. It specifically said, “We don’t like those plans, because we think they’re inadequate, but you can keep them anyway.”

Earlier drafts of the legislation, as Investor’s Business Daily controversially but accurately observed in July 2009, had “a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal.” It would have accomplished this by terminating any plan once it made any change whatsoever to items covered, deductibles, or copays. Perhaps in response to the firestorm IBD and others raised, that prohibitive language was not in the final bill, replaced by comforting but deceptive language about “No Changes to Existing Coverage” and “grandfathered health plans.”

In July 2010, mere months after the ink dried on the Affordable Care Act, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius deliberately regulated most pre-Obamacare individual plans out of existence.

As NBC News correctly described Sebelius’s duplicity:

… the Department of Health and Human Services then wrote regulations that narrowed that (grandfathering) provision, by saying that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered.

… the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.

… most consumers in the individual market will not be able to keep their policies.

Despite what NBC wrote, the plan changes involved didn’t even need to be “significant” as a normal person would understand the word. Changes in deductibles as low as $5-$10 could and did bury many supposedly grandfathered plans.

Middle-income and upper middle-income professionals and self-employed persons comprise much of the individual market. They are now being forced to choose between either purchasing far more expensive coverage through their state exchanges containing coverage they neither want nor need, or doing without health insurance entirely and paying a tax penalty. Additional millions of Americans who have chosen to be uninsured until now are facing the same choices. In California alone, according to the state’s Covered California exchange, this will affect about 2.7 million people who will receive no Obamacare subsidies to cushion the impact:

CalHealthInsIndivMarketImpact

A March outside study commissioned by Covered California estimated that average monthly Silver and Bronze plan premiums for affected individuals across all age groups would be $450 and $386, respectively. That’s supposedly a 20 percent average increase for those who are currently insured, and $386 to $450 the currently uninsured haven’t been spending at all.

People who know they will have to spend hundreds of dollars extra every month on health insurance starting next year won’t wait until next year to sharply curtail their spending. They’ll start the minute they learn the bad news, taking billions away from November and December retail sales. Meanwhile, those who will supposedly be saving money on health care thanks to subsidies won’t change their spending habits until the lower premiums take effect in 2014.

It would only take $4 billion in reduced monthly spending by affected individual plan households each month with a Keynesian multiplier of 1.75 to clip a half-point from the nation’s $1.4 trillion monthly gross domestic product — and most forecasts for fourth quarter GDP were at 2 percent or below even before the ADP report and a recent dive in consumer confidence were known. There is also an undetermined number of people in “small group employer plans” who are seeing their plans terminated, and whose impact will only compound the damage.

Suddenly, thanks to the accumulated effect of years of poor economic policy choices combined with the sticker shock of Obamacare, no GDP growth in the fourth quarter is within the realm of possibility.

Merry Obamacare Christmas.

(Artwork created using a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

Along with having a decades-long career in accounting, finance, training and development, Tom Blumer has written for several national online publications primarily on business, economics, politics and media bias. He has had his own blog, BizzyBlog.com, since 2005, and has been a PJM contributor since 2008.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Nothing grows until he goes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
/SARCASM ON

Obama has achieved what so many thought impossible: the end of the "boom and bust" economic cycles. It's going to be BUST FOREVER. Long live our wise and fearless Great Leader!

/SARCASM OFF
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
...and don't forget, the BILLION $ just spent on the website went to 'connected' companies, one of which was turned down for a gubmint contract before, complained and got a contract for part of the programming. I suppose that if I contributed heftily to Obama's re-election, I'd want some payback as well. And speaking of payback, LOL, the gubmint just decided that health care providers were exempt from being prosecuted for 'pay backs'. Read all about it folks. The law is only for those who oppose the Obama administration. Obama's friends can do as they like and get away with it as does Obama. Long live the 'King'. sheesh.

Coeurmaeghan in Twentynine Palms, CA
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
OK, sorry, 'The IRS could have been given that 3 BILLION $ ', should of course have read 1 BILLION $. I should proofread my comments more closely. Thank you for your patience.

Coeurmaeghan in Twentynine Palms, CA
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
...and I STILL don't get it. Unless one is afraid that giving everyone free insurance or health care would be too socialistic, which the administration is constantly being forced to deny they are, it seems to me that the money spent on the web page(s) for just signing up would have done that admirably. Almost a BILLION $ spent just for the web site alone. With a population of approximately 330 MILLION, couldn't they have spent that money easier, since the IRS is already in charge of re-embursing overpayment of taxes (refunds). The IRS could have been given that 3 BILLION $ and either given everyone 3 million $ or bought healthcare for everyone. Please someone explain my faulty reasoning because I just don't get the waste inherent in having the gubmint in charge of making a website, much less our healthcare.

Coeurmaeghan in Twentynine Palms, CA
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
President Obama, fundamentally transforming America one (lost) job at a time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
my response to ACA aka Obamacare is this letter:

Dear economy,
I will not be stimulating you this coming Christmas season nor anytime soon. The government has MANAGED to tap me wallet dry and thus I'll be unable to participate in any purchases other than the most essential, which the Obama government has already MANAGED to skyrocket like food, gas and utilities...I guess this is what happens when you are MANAGED rather than FREE.
Yours down and broke,
Terry L. Newberry
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I didn't miss your point but you appear to have missed mine (although I am guilty as charged on the strawman - for which I apologize). All that frivolous over-spending can be another man's basic income. If you call for a stop to it, someone suffers. Not much different than Obama dissing yacht owners and Vegas vacationers - until even he realized he was hurting a lot of non-rich people.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is true that wasteful spending doesn't mean cash is literally burned, someone does end up with it. But it's a false premise which would mean no spending could ever be cut.

The economic fact is that by misdirecting those resources into less efficient use, government directly slows economic growth. The same holds true for the massive tax increase that is this health care law. People are being forced to spend money they wouldn't have spent, and on plans they wouldn't purchase voluntarily for very good reasons.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree completely with you. I was making a different point that forcing or coercing someone to stop spending does have repercussions. Everyone is and should be vulnerable to voluntary changes in spending that usually are gradual. But to campaign for or coerce people to suddenly stop spending on something is going to hurt someone.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This was supposed to be a reply to SineWaveII. Don't know how/why it ended up here
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We have the lowest workforce participation rate in generations. Almost all of our job growth [which for 5+ years has not been enough to break even for population growth and generational change] is now part time because of Obamacare. The government claims that there is no inflation by removing food and energy from the calculations and adding housing prices which have not recovered from the initial financial collapse. Since we have to constantly buy food and energy, and only the *Nomenklatura* regularly buy real estate; we are a lot poorer than the government falsehoods [statistics] indicate.

Now, right before the holiday season, those poor souls who can get through to the Obamacare website are being told that they are going to be forced to pay exorbitant prices for government designed insurance that does not protect them in any way. Said charges enforced by the IRS. At the same time those who don't sign up are being threatened with penalties and fines. There are legal limits on those fines, but the Executive Branch has spent 5+ years convincing the country that they are not bound by the law.

Who in their right mind is going to spend any extra money that they have on anything but preparations for hard times? There is now no rational way to avoid those hard times any more. So, since the Christmas shopping season is make or break for a lot of retailers; Bah Humbug is going to be their watchword.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Maybe when the obamabots finally figure out their obamacare insurance isn't worth the paper it's written on, the little light bulb above their heads will glow, although it will most likely be quite dim. Elections have consequences and the consequences of the 2012 election are beginning to look very dangerous for our country's health, economy, and safety.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Nothing grows until he goes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
/SARCASM ON

Obama has achieved what so many thought impossible: the end of the "boom and bust" economic cycles. It's going to be BUST FOREVER. Long live our wise and fearless Great Leader!

/SARCASM OFF
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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