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January 12, 2015

This critique has been updated 5 times, most recently on June 10, 2016. Click here to jump to that update.

A PolitiFactoid.com Critique of...

Congressional Republicans Take Another Swing At Obamacare

by John Ydstie, NPR Morning Edition, January 8, 2015
(click here for the story at NPR.org)

NPR reporter John Ydstie strikes again. He's given us another story about the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare or the ACA) that is shamelessly pro-ACA, and he has once again committed a "lie of omission" about one of his sources whom he quotes extensively in the story. This is not the first time he's committed this sin of journalism. Click here for the previous story. PolitiFactoid.com's critique of the latest report appears below, as dark blue, indented type, embedded in excerpts from the story.

Story intro, read by Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep:
Here's one more early priority for Republican leaders in Congress. They plan another vote on the Affordable Care Act. Today the House will debate and likely pass a bill that would change Obamacare. It would alter the law's definition of full-time work. Right now, 30 hours per week counts as full-time. That would become 40 hours per week, and that would reduce the number of workers to whom employers must offer health insurance. NPR's John Ydstie reports.

Thirty hours counts as full-time under Obamacare – not by any other definition in the United States. Inskeep fails to mention that for some reason. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, "the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires overtime pay to be at least one and one-half times an employee's regular rate of pay after 40 hours of work in a workweek."

John Ydstie:
The bill before the House today was already passed there during the last Congress. Republicans touted it as a way to prevent employers from capping workers' hours. Here's Susan Brooks, an Indiana representative, arguing for the change in Obamacare last year.

U.S. Representative Susan Brooks (from 2014):
By redefining a full-time employee as someone who works 30 or more hours a week, the Affordable Care Act has caused workers' hours to be reduced in vital industries across the nation.

The argument is that by requiring companies to offer health insurance coverage to employees working 30 hours or more, Obamacare creates an incentive for managers to reduce the workers' hours below 30. That way, employers could avoid providing coverage or paying a fine. The change to 40 hours a week has been supported by businesses, most prominently in the restaurant sector, says Joe Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

Joe Antos sound bite #1:
Moving from to 30 hours to 40 hours is something that businesses have supported. They'd like to see less intrusion in the way they handle their workforces.

How is this sound bite meaningful in terms of the story's subject matter? Ydstie had already paraphrased Antos' first statement in the preceding paragraph. The second sentence from Antos says nothing about how the ACA's new 30-hours-per-week standard affects anything. This second part of the statement would be better placed in a story about intrusive government regulations. Is this the best Ydstie could do to give us a meaningful sound bite from Antos? Or, maybe Ydstie could have found some other "health policy expert" who had something meaningful to say. But, then again, why would we expect Ydstie to do that?

Antos says moving the threshold to 40 hours a week is a minor change in the ACA that will affect only a small number of people...

Really? Antos said it would be a minor change? If Antos truly said that, why didn't Ydstie let us hear  him say that? Given Ydstie's questionable performances "paraphrasing" people in previous news stories, I'm not sure whether to trust Ydstie that Antos truly said that.

Ydstie (cont.):
...But, Sherry Glied, dean of the School of Public Policy at New York University, says the current 30-hour-a-week threshold was a good idea.

Next, after letting us hear some meaningless input from Antos, Ydstie quickly moves to Sherry Glied. Ydstie seems to like her for some reason. He's used her more than once in his stories about the ACA. Maybe that's because she's presumably  an impartial academic researcher, based on how Ydstie describes her, yet she always defends the ACA. And – guess what! – she defends and advocates for the ACA once again in this story.

Could anyone have guessed? ... The answer to that rhetorical question is yes. Anyone who read my critique of a previous Ydstie story on the ACA would have easily guessed. That's because Glied used to work for the Obama Administration. Yes, and not only that, but she worked directly for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is the government bureaucracy charged with implementing the ACA. Yes, and not only that, but she was hired specifically to help implement the ACA, and she did so from July 2010 through August 2012 as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at HHS. You don't have to take my word for it – see her bio at NYU.edu. According to CBS News, Glied was "in the 'trenches' figuring out how the health care law would be implemented."

Given all that, is it any surprise that she defends the ACA whenever Ydstie interviews her? Of course not. This is not a criticism of Glied. Ydstie is the problem here. In this news story and at least one other, Ydstie presents Glied as "dean of the school of public policy" or a "public policy professor" at NYU, implying that she's simply an academic researcher, without giving us even a clue about her close ties to the Obama Administration or her inherent conflict of interest regarding the ACA, given the fact that she helped Obama implement the law for two years.

Reprehensible. Why would Ydstie repeatedly fail to disclose such a conflict of interest while relying so heavily on a source's expertise? Am I the only one who wonders why Ydstie would do that? Does he behave that way with all his sources, or only with those that support left-wing positions?

Sherry Glied sound bite #1:
The good thing about the 30-hour threshold is that hardly anybody works about 30 hours. Only about 2.5 percent of all workers in large firms work schedules that are between 30 and 34 hours.

This is where Glied begins presenting her theory (which I'll call the Glied Theory) that if employers are inclined to cut workers' hours to get them under the ACA's 30-hours-per-week threshold, they are likely to do that only with employees who work just a bit more than 30 hours. That's her theory. Neither she nor Ydstie describe it that way, but that's where she's coming from. However, she and Ydstie talk about her theory as if it's a fact. But, it's not  a fact. It's her theory.

An opposing theory – which is driving Republicans to change the ACA threshold – is that all  workers logging 30 or more hours per week are in danger of having their hours cut to less than 30 per week under Obamacare, not just the ones currently working only a bit more than 30 per week. Under the Republican theory, many more workers are at risk of losing hours (and income) if Obamacare's 30-hour threshold remains in place. If the threshold is raised to 40 per week, people working between 30 and 39 hours per week would no longer be at risk of having their hours cut because of Obamacare. Ydstie and Glied never fully explain the Republican theory or how it supports a 40-hour threshold. Instead, later in the story, Ydstie describes a purely political motivation for Republicans. Is that fair and impartial reporting? I think not.

By contrast, Glied says, if the threshold requiring employer-sponsored coverage were raised to 40 hours a week, many more workers would be at risk of losing hours.

Again, this would be the outcome of the Glied Theory, but the opposite  is true under the Republican theory. No mention of that appears in the story.

Also note how Ydstie handles the point Glied is trying to make, versus the way he handled Antos earlier in the story. With Glied, Ydstie helps explain her position and actually gives us important information that Glied is trying to impart. In comparison, he gave short shrift to the tangential Antos sound bite and did nothing to help Antos explain anything meaningful.

Glied sound bite #2:
Forty hours a week is kind of the standard amount of hours that people work. That's where the bulk of American employees are already working. But, if you stick the threshold at 40 hours, it's much easier for employers by just reducing hours by one to move a lot of people below the threshold.

Ydstie included this sound bite to allow Glied to further describe how her theory would work and the effect it would have. By this point in the story, Ydstie has devoted a lot of air time and gone to great lengths to make sure listeners understand the Glied Theory. By contrast, he doesn't explain the Republican theory at all.

To be fair, let me do that again: Regardless of how many hours people have typically worked prior to the employer mandate taking effect, the mandate entices employers to limit work hours to slightly below wherever the threshold is set. Under this theory, if the threshold remains at 30 hours per week, all hourly workers logging more than 29 hours are at risk of having hours (and incomes) cut.

So, Obamacare's 30-hour threshold could cause employers to drastically cut the hours of hourly workers logging 40 hours per week, down to 28 or 29 hours per week, to prevent them from reaching the Obamacare threshold. Under the Glied Theory, that's likely to happen only to people working 30 to 34 hours per week. The Republican theory is supported by math, which, in some ways, makes it more valid than the Glied Theory. Glied fails to discuss this potential outcome of Obamacare, and Ydstie never explains it, either.

Joe Antos counters that most 40-hour-a-week workers already are offered health insurance by their employers.

Antos sound bite #2:
...and are going to continue to offer employee health benefits. In other words, the rule doesn't really affect them.

This is an important distinction, but Ydstie fails to pick up on why it's important. Salaried employees working 40 hours per week are typically already offered employer-sponsored coverage. It's the hourly workers logging around 40 hours per week who face the most risk from Obamacare's 30-hour-per-week threshold.

To avoid being forced by Obamacare to offer coverage to those hourly workers, the law encourages employers to cut hours to less than 30 per week. If you're working 40 hours per week and your employer cuts your hours to 29 per week to avoid the Obamacare penalty, you've just lost over 27 percent of your income. Obamacare's 30-hour-per-week threshold creates that risk, and that's the risk Republicans are trying to eliminate.

So, under the Republican plan for a 40-hour threshold, the risk of losing hours (and pay) because of Obamacare would be limited to hourly workers logging 40 or more hours per week. Of course, no one  should have to bear this risk, but under Obamacare, the risk has to be set at some hourly level. Just by comparing the groups mathematically, anyone can see that Obamacare's 30-hour threshold puts more workers at risk than the 40-hour threshold sought by Republicans. Ydstie never explains that.

This issue of salaried versus hourly workers also brings to light a big hole in the Glied Theory. Under her theory, a 40-hour theshold puts more people at risk of losing hours because many more people work about 40 hours than those working about 30 hours. However, all of the salaried employees working about 40 hours are within that group.

Those salaried workers are not the people at risk, but Glied ignores that reality and Ydstie never calls her on it. Hourly workers are the ones at risk. It's simple mathematics that there are many more hourly workers logging more than 30 hours than those logging more than 40 hours. And, if the Republican plan causes an hourly worker's hours to be cut from 40 hours to 39 hours in order to avoid the penalty, that's nothing compared to having his or her hours cut from 40 to 29. Instead of illustrating that reality and how the Republican plan would mitigate the risk, Ydstie chose to continue helping Glied hide the ball, which you'll see if you keep reading.

But, Glied's research finds that even if you count only workers who don't currently get health insurance through their employers, there would still be twice as many at risk of losing hours if the threshold were moved to 40 hours a week. Glied says the facts suggest that describing this legislation as an effort to protect workers is a smokescreen.

Okay, so Ydstie needs to show how Antos' point is either meaningless or actually helps the Obamacare position. According to Ydstie, Glied suggests that even when the field is narrowed to include only workers who don't currently have employer-sponsored coverage, the 40-hour threshold still places twice as many at risk of losing hours as Obamacare's 30-hour threshold. Ydstie simply accepts this as fact. However, we know Glied's claim is based on the premise that only workers who log between 30 and 34 hours per week are at risk of having hours cut to below 30. Glied told us this early in the story, but she never gives any basis for that premise. As pointed out above, simple mathematics proves that more workers are at risk under Obamacare's 30-hour threshold than under the 40-hour threshold sought by Republicans. Both Ydstie and Glied ignore this reality.

Next, something very telling happens, and it happens with virtually no segue – Ydstie and Glied shift into politics, and they present us with a political attack on the Republican position. According to Ydstie, Glied says Republicans are merely using their arguments as a "smokescreen." Nice. This is a typical left-wing debate tactic: ignore any validity within the opposing point of view while simultaneously accusing the other side of having some nefarious motivation. We've seen Glied's former boss in the White House do this over and over and over since he took office in 2009. Ydstie handles Glied's accusation just like the mainstream media always handle Obama when he employs this tactic – Ydstie aids and abets.

Glied sound bite #3:
Employers don't like the employer mandate because some of them are going to wind up spending more money. That doesn't sell very well, politically. So instead, people have latched onto this idea that it's going to cause big changes in hours. And that's probably just not going to happen.

That's probably just not going to happen? This is a very important point in the story. Glied has done two things in this sound bite: First, we actually hear Glied venture out of "academic research" and into political attack mode, which Ydstie had just introduced. So, it's not just Ydstie.

Secondly, Glied alludes to the Republican theory, without explaining it, and then promply dismisses it by saying, "that's probably just not going to happen." By saying it that way, she implies that it could  happen. An impartial reporter would have jumped on that and asked her to explain why  she thinks that's probably not going to happen and what would be the result if it does  happen. Ydstie, of course, chose not to do that. Those questions would require the Republican theory to be fully explained, and Ydstie can't include that because it would disrupt the pro-Obamacare narrative that's featured in the story.

If Ydstie had been interested in writing an impartial news story, he would also have Googled "Obamacare employers cutting hours" and reported on what pops up. When I did that, about 237,000 results were returned. The very first one, "ObamaCare Employer Mandate: A List Of Cuts To Work Hours, Jobs," shows an ongoing compilation by Investors.com of a list of employers that have cut work hours or staffing levels in conjunction with the implementation of the ACA. As of September 2014, the list contained 450 entries. Check it out for yourself and note the multitude of occasions in which employers have cut hours to just under 30 per week. Find other examples here, here, here, and here.

Joe Antos says he agrees with many Republicans that it would be much better to do away completely with the ACA requirement that businesses provide health care coverage for their workers. But, he says politics require the Republican leadership to satisfy their base quickly by pushing this change in the threshold for coverage. It is likely to pass the House and go to the Senate, but the White House said on Tuesday that if the bill reaches President Obama's desk, he will veto it. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.

Ydstie closes his report by – once again – putting a lot of words in someone else's mouth. If Antos said all this stuff, why didn't Ydstie let us hear  him say it? We already know from at least one prior Ydstie story (see here) that he has a history of reporting that someone said something they really didn't seem to say. If Antos (or anyone else) actually told Ydstie that Republican leaders are passing this bill based on a political motivation to quickly appease their base, why didn't Ydstie play a sound bite for us in which someone actually said that? The only person we hear saying that is Ydstie.


The Bottom Line:
It's too soon to know exactly how the 30-hour threshold will affect employee hours. The employer coverage mandate was supposed to take effect in 2014, but federal HHS delayed the mandate until January 2015 for employers with 100 or more full-time employees and until January 2016 for employers with between 50 and 99 full-time employees. Will the Glied Theory be proven correct? Will the Republican theory prevail? We don't know at this point.

This critique is not concerned about which theory will win out. The issue that led to this critique is how Ydstie goes to great lengths to explain and defend the (pro-Obamacare) Glied Theory while doing almost nothing to explain the Republican theory, and then he presents us with a political attack against the Republicans, their position, and their motives. Oh, let's not forget Ydstie's failure to tell us that his star witness is not  simply an impartial academician – she's actually a former Obama employee and ally who's merely presented  to us as an impartial academician. Because of all that, this NPR story is simply political propaganda that supports Obamacare while demonizing Republicans.



UPDATE #1: (January 18, 2015) One day after I posted this critique, this article was posted to a web site called "Five Thirty Eight Economics" which speaks to this issue of Obamacare potentially causing employers to cut workers' hours. The article indicates that "the evidence suggests [Obamacare's 30-hour threshold] has led some employers to limit the hours of workers who were already part-time, effectively giving a pay cut to some of the most vulnerable Americans." The article also indicates that this has been happening mostly to employees working slightly more than 30 hours per week, in keeping with the Glied Theory.

The article's data come from the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) within the federal government's Department of Commerce. Glied and Ydstie never tell us where Glied's "research data" come from, but, given the similarities and the timing, I'm venturing an educated guess that Glied used the CPS data to devise the Glied Theory. (And, if that's true, then what the reporter describes as "Glied's research" is actually Glied's analysis of someone else's research data.)

The Five Thirty Eight article goes on to tell us, "The BLS numbers, though, have two big problems if we’re interested in the impact of the Affordable Care Act." Hmmm, neither Ydstie nor Glied mentioned that, for some reason. The well-thought-out article at Five Thirty Eight goes on to discuss many of the likely outcomes of the 30-hour threshold, some of which are consistent with the Glied Theory, but the article is careful to evenly present outcomes and potential outcomes consistent with arguments against Obamacare as well. Ydstie did none of that, which is why this critique was written. In any event, it's still too soon to know the full results of the 30-hour threshold, but you'd never know that by listening to Ydstie's NPR story.

UPDATE #2: (February 12, 2015) Less than a month after NPR aired this story, BuzzFeed posted a story about how the implementation of Obamacare's employer mandate for large employers in January 2015 has caused Staples (the office supply company) to – wait for it – vigilantly enforce a policy that part-time employees cannot work more than 25 hours per week, which can result in $200 to $400 of lost wages per month for each affected employee, and those who violate the policy will be disciplined and could get fired, according to BuzzFeed.

To be fair, Staples denies that the policy has anything to do with Obamacare, but, according to BuzzFeed, one part-time Staples employee said her manager told her, "Obama is responsible for this." I wonder if that has been brought to Ydstie's or Glied's attention. I haven't heard anything about this on NPR. If any readers have heard any follow-up stories about this issue by Ydstie or any other NPR reporter, please make a comment to that effect at the bottom of this critique, along with a link.

UPDATE #3: (May 14, 2015) Lest you thought this issue was no longer an issue, click here for a May 7, 2015, story about a school district in Alabama that cannot afford to let substitute teachers work 30 hours or more per week (a situation that began in January, because of Obamacare) and therefore cannot find enough substitute teachers to fully staff its classrooms. Not only are students being disadvantaged, but the substitute teachers who could be working five days a week are limited to three days a week, which means their maximum pay is being cut by 40 percent. I'm not making this up. Click on the story and read it for yourself...

Wait a minute – how can this be? According to Sherry Glied and the Glied Theory, this sort of thing is "probably just not going to happen." However, back in reality, it is  happening, so when is NPR going to run a follow-up report about ugly outcomes of Obamacare that Glied told us were probably not going to happen?... <insert crickets chirping here>

UPDATE #4: (May 3, 2016) Nearly 16 months have now passed since NPR first ran this story. In the meantime, on January 1, 2016, the ACA's coverage mandate for employers with between 50 and 99 full-time employees, took effect – with virtually zero attention from the news media, I might add. Four months have gone by since then.

Today, a study entilted "The New Gig Economy" was announced, containing the results of a survey of employers and freelancers. The results indicate that the ACA is triggering companies to hire more freelance workers, as opposed to full-time employees. Sixty-eight percent of companies indicated that the ACA will have a high impact on hiring more freelance workers and, as a result, 74 percent will contract with more freelancers. The survey also indicates that the ACA creates the following conflict for employers: While 89 percent said health care benefits are key to attracting and retaining talent, nearly one-third of companies intend to eliminate them due to the ACA. And, 60 percent of employers plan to hire more freelancers than full-time employees in 2016 compared to 2015. (See all this in the news release, dated May 3, 2016, by clicking here.)

The study was not conducted by some right-wing think tank or anti-Obamacare "tea party" group. It was conducted by an outfit called Field Nation, an online work platform for connecting businesses and workers, and Future Workplace, an executive development firm that provides workforce and workplace consulting services for employers. Now, given these findings, will NPR ask John Ydstie to do a follow-up story on this issue and give these survey results the same level of attention he gave to the pro-Obamacare Glied Theory back in January 2015? If you hear such a story on NPR, please let me know.

UPDATE #5: (June 10, 2016) [1] The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed on June 3 that involuntary part-time employment increased sharply in May. An additional 468,000 people reported working part-time in May because of getting fewer hours from their employers or because they couldn't find full-time work. Why might that have happened?

Well, Goldman Sachs released a study on June 8 indicating that Obamacare's employer mandate is at least partly to blame. There's no smoking gun here, but there are indicators. The reason there's no smoking gun is because people usually don't know the exact cause when their hours are cut or when they can't find full-time work, which means they can't report that during a BLS survey. This lack of a smoking gun led Goldman Sachs to say, "We find mixed evidence to support the theory that the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has contributed to the elevated level of involuntary part-time work," according to The Los Angeles Times, and that "the effect is hard to quantify."

However, MarketWatch.com quotes a Goldman Sachs economist as writing that "We would estimate that a few hundred thousand workers might be working part-time involuntarily as a result of the Affordable Care Act." That MarketWatch.com quote is acknowledged but downplayed by The Los Angeles Times.

So far, I can only find news reports about the Goldman Sachs study. I don't have a copy of it myself, so it's hard for me to figure out exactly what it says. Various news outlets have widely disparate views on how to interpret the Goldman Sachs report. If anyone knows how to get a copy, please let me know.

But, since even The Los Angeles Times does not refute that Goldman Sachs estimates Obamacare to have caused a few hundred thousand workers to either lose hours or be unable to find full-time work, we'll at least rely on that much. A few hundred thousand is much more than just a handful. But... HOW? How can this be?? Sherry Glied told NPR that this sort of thing was "probably just not going to happen," didn't she??

And, don't forget that it's only June of the first year that the employer mandate has been in effect for employers with 50 to 99 full-time workers. Once employers start feeling the full effects of Obamacare and realize that their only escape is to have fewer full-time workers and to cut the hours of part-time workers, what impact is that likely to have on this situation? (Hint: See Update #4 above.)

But, wait a minute... Sherry Glied said this probably wouldn't happen! HOW CAN THIS BE??



  1. This June 10 version of Update #5 replaces a June 9 version that was based on the earliest reports about the Goldman Sachs study. Information that emerged later allowed for a more complete and well-rounded update, which is what you'll find in the June 10 version above. (Click here to return to Update #5.)


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