What Health Care Reform Means to the Middle Class

by Janet Ritz

President Obama, at his Wednesday press conference, spoke at length about the job-loss impact of rising healthcare costs on the middle class. That left the press wondering why he focused on one demographic when the recession has hit construction workers, young people, and so many others. He made this point because the middle class -- and by extension, the overall economy that relies on the middle class -- will not be able to recover without health care reform.

Healthcare providers state, as people age, they require more care for which the employer must pay. That is true. It also has the unintended consequence of limiting job prospects for the middle-aged job seekers because of those costs. This, in turn, has had a devastating consequence on the struggling economy.

When an employer has to choose between a middle-aged, middle class prospect who comes with higher costs for healthcare, despite being the most qualified candidate, and a younger, less experienced applicant who will cost them less in premiums, they will most often chose the cheaper option. While that may be understandable from a bottom-line point of view, it also means the company is not getting the best candidate, and the middle-aged job-seeker is out of work.

The president has talked of the "donut hole" that exists for Medicare patients; the requirement to cover all the costs after a certain limit is reached until a far higher limit comes into play. This has been a known challenge for seniors on fixed incomes. The middle class also has their own "donut hole" between age fifty and sixty-five (when Medicare kicks in), due to the dearth of employment opportunities that come from inflated premiums for their demographic.

This cascades to all demographics. When those in their fifties and sixties are passed over for jobs or are let go to save on healthcare premiums, a vital segment of our economy becomes depressed (economically and emotionally). They can't provide for their children or aging parents. They can't consume. America requires a strong middle class and they are being passed over for jobs.

It can be argued, in your youth-oriented culture, that ageism is limiting hiring, and that may be true. It's more difficult to argue that the decision to exclude people of a "certain age" is coming down from the C-Level as policy because board members don't like their peers (of similar ages). Healthcare, on the other hand, is an identifiable rising cost driving many employment decisions.

Those who want to wait to implement reform until 2010 are arguing to kill it. Congress is unlikely to stay in Democratic hands through a midterm election . The president knows that. That is why is risking his early presidency to put it through. While one can argue he is determined to see it pass for personal reasons (President Obama has spoken of watching how his mother spent the last year of her life fighting with insurance companies for cancer coverage), and that is likely to be a driving motivation. But he has also argued just as passionately that, without healthcare reform, the economy will not recover.

Employment will not improve until there is health care reform leading to increased numbers of the employed across the full age-spectrum. That will not happen without incentives for employers to hire the middle-aged middle class.

Publication date: 7/22/09 10:02 PM