Posted by: Donna
I have long thought employer based health coverage was a colossally dumb idea, and not simply because it’s immoral that sick people should go without care because they’re unemployed or their job doesn’t come with insurance. While that moral argument, in itself, is sufficient, employer based health insurance is unfair on its own merits. When equal pay for women was passed in 1963, one of the main arguments against it was that men should be paid more because they had families to support. Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz scoffed at that, saying that people should be paid for the work they do, not the number of dependents they had. Employer-based health coverage is clearly a violation of the principle of equal pay for equal work. Put another way, you can have employees at the same company doing the same job at the same salary but if they get insurance coverage through work their overall compensation can vary by thousands of dollars between them, due to family size and personal health characteristics. Furthermore, labor economists say that money going to benefits is money that comes directly out of wages, which means that workers with low health care costs are earning less than they would be were it not for their coworkers with higher health care costs. When I’ve raised the possibility of dismantling employer-based insurance to people, the objections I tend to get are that it would be highly difficult to do since it’s so entrenched, people are used to it, and employers like it because it’s a good recruiting and retention tool. But that doesn’t make it right.
And now some religious business owners are making an even more rock solid case for breaking up the employer/health care relationship through their petulant hissyfit over the contraception mandate in Obamacare. These private businesses are suing to be included in the Obama administration’s exemption of churches and groups with a religious mission from having to cover contraceptives in employee health plans. Frankly, the Administration should never have exempted any employer, not even a church, from having to cover women’s basic preventive health care in insurance plans. If employers don’t want to provide adequate coverage to their female employees because the thought of them having non-procreative sex gives them the vapors, then they should get out of the insurance business entirely and find other ways to attract talented workers. These employers basically want it both ways: they want the benefits that accrue to them for having health insurance plans (attracting talent and tax breaks) while imposing their particular religious views on their workers and engaging in some rather egregious gender discrimination. As Jill Filipovic put it in her recent Guardian column:
That’s the face of “religious freedom” today, according to the radical right: that is, not simply the freedom to practice your own religion, but the freedom to limit the rights and choices of anyone over whom you hold a modicum of power.
The sexual authoritarians can’t ban birth control outright so they want to get to women’s access through their jobs. So long as we insist on keeping this unwieldy, unfair, and antiquated alliance of health insurance and employment in place the Religious Right has endless opportunities to do so under the guise of “religious freedom” and protecting private business owners. This should be viewed as the last straw. It’s time for employer based health insurance to go.
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