The candidates before the debate. (Getty Images)
At the fourth Republican presidential debate (Nov. 10), held last night in Milwaukee and hosted by Fox Business, the GOP candidates made known their opposition to an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour and their strong desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known colloquially as Obamacare.
And yet many experts have reached opposing conclusions to those of the candidates, confident that these policies would, and have, helped Americans live more secure and healthier lives — not causing the doom and gloom the candidates insisted on last night.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina told audiences that ACA is “failing the very people it was intended to help,” which is why she believes that the policy must be repealed. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called ACA a “crazy health care law that discourages companies from hiring people.”
One group notably affected by the Affordable Care Act has been young adults — a demographic that is also a key voting block. Almost a third of all 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States are currently uninsured. Since the implementation of ACA, up to 9 million currently uninsured young adults could be eligible for new tax credits in the health insurance marketplaces created by the law. And if all states implemented the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, up to 7.8 million uninsured young adults could be eligible for Medicaid.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have opted to expand Medicaid coverage for those who earn more than 138 to 400 percent over the federal poverty level (FPL) — coverage for which the federal government pays at least 90 percent of the cost. For an individual, the FPL is measured at an annual income of $11,770; and 400 percent of that translates to $47,080 a year. In other words, Medicaid expansion is meant to help those who are earning above the federal poverty level but may still be in need of economic support, especially when it comes to paying for their health care.
Florida, a critical swing state (and Rubio’s home state), has opted not to expand Medicaid coverage — and, according to policy think tank Young Invincibles, has in turn denied insurance coverage to half a million 18- to 34-year olds. Currently 32 percent of young Floridians are uninsured, with many under the age of 26, who under ACA would be covered by their parents’ health insurance plans. Uninsured young adults are more likely to struggle with medical bills and debt than their insured counterparts, and to delay or forgo needed medical care, which can negatively impact their health, education, and careers, the group reports.
Young Invincibles notes that nearly six in 10 young adults in Florida’s coverage gap live in the state’s four largest metropolitan areas, thus putting an even greater financial burden on the state’s economic centers. Not only do these young adults incur greater financial risks as a result of being uninsured, but, the group explains, they may also have less discretionary income. All of this harms businesses, economic development, and the upward economic mobility of young adults — an essential demographic for economic growth.
Forget repealing ACA nationally, as Rubio and Fiorina suggested. Merely failing to close the coverage gap in Florida could keep approximately 918,000 Floridians uninsured — and an estimated 1,100 to 2,200 lives could be lost as a result.
Furthermore, the Center for American Progress (CAP), a nonpartisan research and educational policy research institute, notes that employers report that ACA has had only a negligible influence on their health care costs and that the “actual reason why employee and employer costs are increasing at different rates is because employers have, over time, shifted greater responsibility for health care expenses to their employees through higher deductibles, higher copayments, and higher coinsurance — a practice that began long before the passage of the ACA.”
CAP concludes that one of the best ways to decrease this cost burden on American workers is by expanding the ACA’s free preventive-services benefit. Ensuring that more of Americans’ health care needs are guaranteed — and making the health care benefits guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act available to more Americans — will help to grow the economy, decreasing costs for both workers and employers.
Another topic dismissed by the candidates last night was raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“People have to go out. They have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum,” said CEO and reality television star Donald Trump, implying that the current problems faced by the working poor result not from wages being too low but from workers not working hard enough.
“From Donald Trump to Marco Rubio, Republicans are living in a fantasy world if they believe America’s hard-working families haven’t earned a raise,” Jess Levin, communications director for Making Change at Walmart tells Yahoo Health. “The truth is that Walmart workers and retail workers across the country work hard and still struggle to pay bills and feed their families. If you truly want to make “America great again,” it’s time for employers to pay a living wage.”
According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a $15 an hour wage is needed to cover the average single adult American’s most basic needs: food, health insurance, housing, transportation, clothing, and childcare.
“If I thought that raising the minimum wage was the best way to help people increase their pay, I would be all for it. But it isn’t. In the 20th century, it’s a disaster,” Rubio said in answer to increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Unfortunately, your income has a huge impact on your health. “Research clearly shows that people with low incomes have worse health outcomes than those with higher incomes,” David Madland, managing director of economic policy and director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress and the author of Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn’t Work Without a Strong Middle Class told Yahoo Health in September.
He points to factors ranging from the stress of not having enough money to make ends meet, to not being able to afford healthy foods, to not being able to live in safe and healthy neighborhoods as contributing to adverse health outcomes for low-wage hourly workers. “People seem to forget that a living wage isn’t about being able to buy material things to have a better material life,” he says. “It’s about having better implications for a person’s health and future.”
And Madland offers an opposing view to the argument proposed by Trump. He says that “you get greater productivity out of a worker when their job is better and wages are higher. They stay on the job longer and gain more skills that that particular job needs.”