Howard Dean, a former governor and physician and a proponent of the federal health care law, acknowledged Sunday that some businesses will inevitably drop health insurance coverage for their employees.
"Small businesses are going to dump their employees into the exchange. I think that's a good thing," the former Democratic presidential candidate from Vermont said on CNN's "State of the Union." "To separate employment from health insurance, that's something conservatives have wanted to do for a long time until recently, and I think that's going to happen as a result of this bill."
Dean originally disapproved of the Affordable Care Act because it lacked a public option and, in his view, did not go far enough in covering Americans. But he now says he's "very optimistic" about the law.
"I think when they see what this looks like, this debate we're having, which is outrageous, is going to look really stupid," he told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.
But Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, another physician, was quick to pounce on Dean's statement about small businesses "dumping" their employees onto the exchanges - or, as Barrasso said, "dump them onto taxpayer subsidies."
The senator also pointed to President Barack Obama's repeated assertion during his re-election bid that if Americans like their insurance plan, they'll be able to keep it under the Affordable Care Act.
"First of all, if you've got health insurance, you like your doctor, you like your plan - you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan. Nobody is talking about taking that away from you," the president said as far back as 2009, before the plan passed.
At least in part because of the new law, some large employers are reassessing how they offer health care to their employees. This summer shipping giant UPS announced it would no longer cover spouses of non-union employees who are also eligible for health benefits from their own employers. This affects about 15,000 spouses who as of Jan. 1, 2014, will have to change insurance plans.
Some major labor unions that originally signed on to health care reform now say many of their members may not be able to keep their current health care coverage under multi-employer plans. These plans, which pool risk among small businesses, are not eligible for federal subsidies under the new health care law. That means union workers might have to change health care plans.
Also, only a handful of existing individual plans that people currently have will be grandfathered into the exchanges. So most people currently in the individual market will need to get new plans.
"Now think about that," Barrasso said. "The president said if you like what you have, you can keep it. There are people all around the country who like the insurance they have and can't keep it because, as Howard said, they're going to get dumped into the exchange,"
"This law is not workable, it's unpopular, it's unaffordable for us as a nation," he said. "It's hurting jobs, it's hurting the economy."