Economists Split on Affordable Care Act Outcomes

The law will most likely have no effect on growth, but it would more likely than not hurt output, say economists.

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With Obamacare as divisive as ever, wouldn't it be great if economists – those calm voices of carefully considered reason – could just settle the whole debate for us?

[READ: Democrats Can't Run From Obamacare, Even if They Never Voted for It]

Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to happen. According to a new survey, economists are divided on what exactly the Affordable Care Act would do to economic growth. The February survey from the National Association of Business Economics found that a plurality of the 230 economists questioned – 42 percent – said the Affordable Care Act will have “no significant effect” on long-term economic growth.

However, economists were more likely than not to say the law would reduce growth. A significant portion, 30 percent, says the act will reduce growth, making economists more likely than not to say the act will cut back on economic output. Nearly 1 in 5, 18 percent, say Obamacare will boost growth, and 10 percent said they didn't know or had no opinion.

The survey comes weeks after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stirred debate with a report stating the Affordable Care act would lead to a reduction in hours worked equivalent to 2.5 million fewer full-time workers by 2024 (an outcome the CBO said would be largely due to workers voluntarily pulling back on their work hours). The White House responded that the act would allow workers more freedom to change jobs or start businesses, and that the report also did not take into account the effects of reduced health care costs the act would create.

It is perhaps unsurprising that opinion remains divided, as the law's implementation is still in its infancy – insurance exchanges opened in October, and the employer mandate will not go into effect until 2015. More importantly, however, the success of the ACA will rely heavily upon how many people sign up via the exchanges, as well as how old and how healthy those people are...not to mention whether they pay.