Monday, June 30, 2014

End Employer-Based Health Insurance Now
Or, when your hobby is lobbying against health care...

We have a major problem in the United States of America, but no one seems to have articulated it very clearly in the wake of the horrifying Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and other corporations who don't want their religious liberty burdened. No, the problem to which I refer is not the fact that people in extremely high positions (such as CEOs and Supreme Court justices) think that corporations have religious liberty to be burdened in the first place, although that is, indeed, a problem. (Perhaps we should examine the blurring of religious/corporate lines in another post. It works both ways: churches are big business, you know.)

The problem to which I do refer is the fact that we (by which I of course mean "we") somehow still think it's a good idea for employers to provide health insurance in the first place. Why, oh why, does anyone still think this is a good idea?

It's not a good idea. Employer-based health insurance is a terrible, awful, no-good idea.

This problem has failed to be clearly articulated in the last several years as the debate has raged on (and on and on) about "Obamacare" and health insurance mandates and single-payer systems and Medicaid expansion. Many, many people have glossed right over that part where employers provide health coverage in the first place. We should immediately and permanently do away with that system.

It has never made any sense to me to begin with. A workplace is a random grouping of people who happen to live in more or less the same area, but not even with entirely the same skill sets/interests. For example, a corporation might employ HR gurus, software engineers, and architects, who have nothing in common. But, they are suddenly a "group" for health insurance purposes. It doesn't make any sense, but almost everyone has been conditioned to think it makes perfect sense.

The exception to that "everyone"? People like me who have made a living for a decade from freelancing, indepenent contracting, pursuing an advanced degree, and working abroad. Those noble pursuits will quickly show you how awful employer-based health care can be for someone trying to eke out a living without being on a corporate payroll. I could spend 50 hours working on writing and editing as a freelancer or independent contractor, but because I wasn't on a company's payroll, I was somehow less entitled to group coverage than someone who worked 35-40 hours in a cubicle. And changing employers, from country to country? Yikes! Arguably, the freelancers and independent contractors of the world (whether those contractors are artists or plumbers, whether they build kitchen cabinets or tutor youngsters learning violin) are working even harder to hustle, collect payments, maintain schedules, get clients, and so forth than "full-time employees," but we are apparently "lesser" when it comes to determining if we are eligible for health care.  We are asked to buy insurance as individuals, without an employer subsidy, and we are charged at least $400-700 per month, sometimes more, for the equivalent coverage of what was an $80 or so pre-tax paycheck deduction when I was a full-time employee of a company that wasn't Myself.

Why not group everyone by zip code (like auto insurance does) or by some combination of age/smoker-non-smoker/exercise status, or heck, by their favorite NFL team (with all the "no preference" also forming a group?

Why don't these ideas make as much sense as deciding the employees of X company are now an insurance group?

This is hugely important because not everyone is employed by a company,  but everyone can have a favorite NFL team (or "no preference"). Sometimes there is an idea that those who are not "employed by a company providing health coverage" are just the deadbeats/unemployed/lazy/illegal aliens/whatever who don't "deserve" health care, an argument we're not even going to waste time refuting, because it doesn't address what I have already pointed out: that it isn't just the "unemployed" who don't have employer health coverage. It is the very hardworking temp employees (I once worked for a YEAR as production assistant paid through a temp agency, before actually being hired as an official employee of the radio program--same desk, same duties, same everything) and the independent contractors and so forth.

There is major resistance to government-provided health coverage, but I don't know why that is any worse or weirder than employer-provided coverage. People change employers during their lifetimes a lot more often than they change citizenship. And wouldn't life be easier for employers as well, not having to deal with employees' health insurance?  Which, by the way, has nothing to do with the work of most companies but necessitates having someone/some department deal with benefits all day? It's like a giant colossal waste. Why not have benefits people working for a benefits company that is just about benefits? Allocated by the NFL-team alignment, or zip code alignment, or favorite color alignment, or type of animal that was your first childhood pet, or whatever!!!!

WHY NOT, people??!  Tell me why not?!?!

And guess what: then this Hobby Lobby religious freedom nonsense would not even be an issue. Religion would have absolutely nothing to do with it...because employers wouldn't be asked to do anything for health care, so they wouldn't have any religious objections.

Or, we could just divide everyone by religion/lack thereof in the first place and have the religious beliefs/non-beliefs be the health coverage groups (instead of the NFL team preferences). Then the health coverage groups would be the Mormons, the Catholics, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Orthodox Jews, etc. and naturally the atheists and agnostics and humanists could also have group coverage.

Anything but this horrible system of employer-based group coverage, please. It is deeply flawed because it does not make insurance available to all, and it apparently causes problems because employers have to grapple with decisions they never should be having to grapple with in the first place (like the religious beliefs of anyone in the corporation, from top to bottom).

The federal marketplace/health exchanges are supposedly helping to solve this problem, although I have had such a hideous time trying to enroll in my Arizona health insurance (for which I qualify, freelance income-wise) that I still can't tell you, months later, if all of my paperwork has been finalized and approved. It's a disaster. (Not  just a federal government web site disaster, states' rights people, but a state-level disaster as well.)

I don't know why anyone thought employer-based health coverage is a good idea, but today's Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision proves once again that it is not. I am more than ready to be assigned to a group that has nothing to do with my employer.

I am more than ready to just cast my lot with the Arizona Cardinals fans, or whoever I elect as "my" team.

Imagine somebody worked super-hard for twenty years, saved money, and at age 45 had enough in savings, investments, and so forth to "retire" and just pursue basket-weaving in the garage? Well, if you weren't in the military for your "career," good luck with that. Not because you need to work for the income, but because you need to work for the health insurance. I'd much rather live in a world that groups us by NFL teams.

But even worse is the situation of the person who weaves beautiful baskets for her or his entire life, procuring the materials, creating them, selling them, and providing a much-needed service to everyone who wants baskets and lives a simple but comfortable life, unconcerned with SUVs or six-bedroom houses or 64-inch high-def television screens...but cannot so much as go to the dentist without spending a couple months' income. This latter situation is the world we live in, thanks to employer-based health insurance.


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