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Economic Insights

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The Affordable Care Act is scheduled to go into effect on October 1. How will it affect the economy and the markets? 

Transcript

Narrator: This is Lord Abbett's Investment Perspectives featuring Milton Ezrati, Partner and Senior Economist and Market Strategist for Lord Abbett.

Mike Weldon: This is Mike Weldon, Partner and Director of Marketing at Lord Abbett. Joining me today is Milton Ezrati, Partner and Senior Economic Strategist. Milton, a lot of talk about the Affordable Care Act, we're drawing close to implementation, January 1, 2014, how are things looking out there?

Milton Ezrati: Well unfortunately, I mean there's a lot to talk about on this but, unfortunately, the bottom line is the uncertainty that has been plaguing the economy with this piece of legislation since it was passed in 2010 is going to continue.

You know Mike the big issue on this act was never the cost, although some people complained about the cost and there were some legitimate concerns on that front, the big issue is the uncertainty. No matter what the cost, if somebody can calculate whether they're a household making plans or a business making plans, I plan to do this, this and this, this is what the implications are in this piece of legislation, this will burden me, whether it's administrative or in literal costs, you make the calculation, you weigh one against the potential rewards and you can make a decision with confidence. But if you can't know what the costs are and you don't know what the burdens are then people naturally hesitate and postpone decisions. That's what we've been living with. There was some hope over this period of time that when we got to the implementation, whether you liked the bill or you hated the bill, at least there'd be clarity and people could plan more effectively. It doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Mike Weldon: Now it's surprising, three years post legislation, none of the uncertainty seems to be clearing. Can you give a couple of examples of some of the things that have taken place?

Milton Ezrati: Well, there are a number of factors here. There's a lot of politics, there always is a lot of politics. There's also the fact that these exchanges are becoming much more of a technological and administrative problem than we thought. I think the most obvious thing, however, in this is that the administration has postponed a lot of parts of this bill. Now according to my calculations, of the 82 measures that were supposed to be designated or met between the fast passage of the legislation and today, 41 of them have either been missed or postponed. A lot of stuff is still hanging up in the air.

There are six things that I think stand out here and they're not small parts of the bill, so let me just tick them off for a moment. One is that we were supposed to move funds from Medicare toward the Affordable Care Act. That was supposed to start in the new year; it's been postponed for a year. There was a mandate that said any firm with 50 or more employees would have to buy insurance for their staff or face a penalty. That's been postponed for a year. The eligibility requirements, if you were below a certain income level and could demonstrate it, the government would send you a subsidy to help you buy medical insurance on the exchanges. That's been postponed because of some of the administrative and technical problems. There was a cap on out-of-pocket expenses that was supposed to be imposed on all insurance, that's been postponed for a year. There was a privacy protection issue because Obamacare was going to make an enormous database of everyone's healthcare. There was a lot of privacy protections that's been stripped down, not postponed, but stripped down tremendously, a lot of talk about identity theft that this is inadequate. They were supposed to have small business exchanges like the individual state exchanges but for small business to buy insurance for their people. That too has been postponed.

We don't know when these things--they say a year, but they've already been postponed so nobody knows. Everyone knows this stuff is still on the horizon as it has been since the bill has been passed but at the same time, we don't know when, we don't know how it's going to be implemented, we don't know the cost. So that's one of the great uncertainties that remains.

Mike Weldon: So you mentioned the exchanges and those are supposed to go into effect October 1 of 2013, I believe, what's happening there?

Milton Ezrati: Well, the people who framed this bill thought the states would build exchanges for themselves. Insurance law is a state by state issue. Medicaid which they have to interface with is a state by state issue. There was a sense that the states would build these. The federal government said if the state failed, if it couldn't do it or wouldn't do it the federal government would step in but they felt that the states would do more. Now it turns out that at least 25 states have walked away. The federal government is going to have to build exchanges for them from the ground up. Many states have said they'd be happy to go ahead but they want to only do it in concert with the federal government and states have said that they would do it for themselves, California and New York, for example, are falling behind.

So there's a tremendous administrative technological burden that has fallen on health and human services to get these exchanges in place. This is not easy. Each exchange has to verify people's identity, it has to screen insurance companies, it has to select the ones that will be on the exchange, it has to interface so people can buy it. It can't just be the computer, it has to include snail mail as well as telephones. This is a big project and health and human services clearly is not going to have this in place except in the most stripped down version and even then perhaps not. So, this too is an uncertainty because until these are up and operating no one knows what the cost is going to be, no one knows what the implications are.

Mike Weldon: As if that's not enough, there's a lot of political uncertainty too, right? This thing has sort of become a political football. What's likely to happen in Washington -- how do you see it playing out?

Milton Ezrati: Well, I don't know how that's going to play out. I'm not going to be able to handicap this but we do know there's a big split within the Republican Party. The right wing of the party, the more conservative part of the party, is saying we're not going to have continuing resolutions unless they defund this legislation and we need the continuing resolutions because we haven't passed a budget. Another aspect of this group is saying we will not raise the debt ceiling unless we defund Obamacare, excuse me, the Affordable Care Act, I like the colloquial. The establishment in the Republican Party is saying they would love to defund the legislation but not at the expense of closing down the government. We do not know how this debate is going to come out as we approach the debt ceiling, as we approach the need for more continuing resolutions, more uncertainty because we don't know how this is going to work out so that just extends it even further.

Mike Weldon: So a lot of uncertainty not only related to the bill, but to the politics around it, and it doesn't look like it's ending any time soon.

Milton Ezrati: No, I mean whether you like this legislation or not, everyone admitted, pro or con, that the uncertainty was a detriment to the economy. It made people postpone decisions, slowed hiring, it slowed economic activity. People were looking for relief, whether they liked the legislation or not. Looking for relief when it was implemented, it now looks like that relief, that happy day, is on a distant horizon.

Mike Weldon: Okay. Thanks Milton. This has been Lord Abbett's Investment Perspectives, thanks for watching.

Narrator: For more information on this topic, or to access other videos, audio files, articles or commentary, please explore Lordabbett.com.

This broadcast serves as reference material for information purposes only; does not constitute an offer to acquire, solicitation for an offer to acquire, an offer to sell or solicitation for an offer to buy, any securities, nor is intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research, or investment advice on any securities, and cannot be used for any of the foregoing.

The views and opinions expressed by the Lord Abbett speaker are those of the speaker as of the date of the broadcast, and do not necessarily represent the views of the firm as a whole. Any such views are subject to change at any time based upon market or other conditions and Lord Abbett disclaims any responsibility to update such views. Neither Lord Abbett nor the Lord Abbett speaker can be responsible for any direct or incidental loss incurred by applying any of the information offered.

This broadcast is the copyright © 2013 of Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC. All Rights Reserved. This recording may not be reproduced in whole or in part or any form without the permission of Lord Abbett.

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