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Experts dispute claims health law is job killer

Despite what Republicans say, the 2010 health care law isn't necessarily a job killer, experts say.

Republicans have titled their effort to overturn the law the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act," and that's their favorite talking point against it. The House will start debate on repeal today and probably vote Wednesday.

Saying that the law is a job killer doesn't necessarily make it one, however, and independent experts say that such a conclusion is at least premature, if not unfounded.

"The claim has no justification," said Micah Weinberg, a senior research fellow at the centrist New America Foundation's Health Policy Program.

Since the law contains dual mandates that most individuals must obtain health insurance coverage and most employers must offer it by 2014, "the effect on employment is probably zero or close to it," said Amitabh Chandra, a professor of public policy at Harvard University.

House Republicans defend their job-killer claim in a 19-page Jan. 6 report, "ObamaCare: A Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health Care Law." But some of its points are out of date or omit offsetting information that would weaken the argument.

For instance, the report says that a study by the National Federation of Independent Business, "the nation's largest small business association, found that an employer mandate alone could lead to the elimination of 1.6 million jobs between 2009 and 2014, with 66 percent of those coming from small businesses."

But that study was released on Jan. 28, 2009, well before the law was written. It studied a model, not the law that was enacted eventually, and it was based on different assumptions.

A central problem with concluding flatly that the measure will kill jobs, experts say, is that the law's impact on the economy depends on a host of unpredictable variables.

"There are so many crosscurrents it's hard to know what will happen," said Chris Varvares, the president of Macroeconomic Advisers, a St. Louis-based economic research firm.

To analyze the GOP claims, experts advise considering these questions:

*Will the law help or hurt economic growth?

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the measure will reduce federal budget deficits by about $230 billion over 10 years. House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has disputed the estimate, saying "CBO is entitled to their opinion."

*Will the law's mandates discourage hiring? Maybe, but it's hard to tell yet.

The CBO found last August that employers' hiring decisions will be affected "in some cases by the health care legislation," adding that many of the law's effects "may not be felt for several years because it will take time for workers and employers to recognize and to adapt to the new incentives."

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