Health Care Prospects As We Approach 2016: Worse Than Ever

For all the claims of “Obama Care” and states that have increased minimum wages, it seems many people are more aware of the plight of the working poor, those who fall between the cracks when it comes to healthcare coverage. They may work 40 or more hours a week, but still aren’t offered insurance. Sometimes, they are sub-contracted through a staffing agency that also offers no benefits. Many of these individuals, including whole families, still do not qualify for Medicaid even though they fall significantly below the poverty line. For these individuals, working more does not help and it may even hurt them if they do qualify for any benefits. Many part-time jobs for blue collar workers offer no health insurance, either. They may have a little more money if they work a second job, but still no health insurance or a way to pay the often exorbitant premiums.

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According to USA Today, as many as five million Americans remain not only poor but also uninsured. Despite state and federal policies specifically aimed to help Americans get health care, there are still many factors that are barriers to achieving this goal. Findings from months-long research by USA Today found that there are many ways that states continue to avoid giving many individuals coverage. Some of the information gathered from the report shows that despite the Affordable Care Act, twenty states still have not increased Medicaid coverage to include individuals it should be covering.

Companies are more frequently using contract workers for whom they’re not required to provide insurance (because they don’t classify them as their own workers) so they can avoid having to provide health, vision and dental benefits. State and local governments are also contracting out more jobs to small businesses that are not required to provide health care coverage for their workers because they fall short of the required number of employees mandate.

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Other tricks used to get around the mandate become harder to gauge. However, surveys of employees show that 20 percent of businesses have cut or plan to cut workers’ hours to avoid paying for health benefits, since only full-time workers in some businesses qualify for health care coverage. Workers report that their work hours are always kept right below the 30 hours needed for them to qualify for health insurance. The companies can then claim that downsizing or restructuring the employee work grid as the explanation that allows them to not be obviously breaking labor laws.

To add insult to injury, many companies are following the law, but only doing just what they have to do, a situation that still leaves workers in a quandary. Some employers offer coverage that’s affordable only by the least definition of the Affordable Care Act. The Act says the monthly contribution for individual coverage cannot legally be more than 9.5 percent of annual household income, and that’s what they take, but in reality it is too expensive for people earning near-poverty wages to be able to afford while still having enough left for food and shelter.

Large corporations with a lot of minimum-wage workers, such as McDonald’s, Walmart, and other unskilled laborers, can (by law) leave insurance decisions up to franchisees, who only have to offer insurance if they have 100 employees or greater (a number that is dropping to 50 as of Jan.1, 2016). That means that some businesses may be able to avoid giving insurance by hiring fewer workers than the job demands, but still offer no insurance. To many, a more immediate need is food and shelter and despite the fact they have no insurance, the overtime is an incentive to stay at the job, and it still costs the company far less than providing health care coverage would.

Perhaps the Act was meant to be affordable, but research shows more Americans than ever are falling through the cracks.

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