On the one hand you’ve had people arguing that Hobby Lobby’s refusal to offer its employees health insurance with contraceptive coverage is a matter of religious freedom. Apparently Hobby Lobby’s owners don’t want their employees making love unless there’s the possibility of making a baby.
The other side argued that contraceptive coverage was none of Hobby Lobby’s, er, business.
As we know, the Supremes found in favor of Hobby Lobby. For some, this represents a triumph. Others are sorely disappointed. Both sides have missed a much larger point.
The Hobby Lobby case would never have come up if not for our country’s crippling insistence on yoking health insurance and employment.
If the United States had a single-payer, universal health care program, the bosses at Hobby Lobby would not have had to worry about what was or wasn’t in their employee insurance plan. And no one who worked for Hobby Lobby would trouble themselves about whether or not their healthcare was constrained by their bosses’ religious beliefs.
The idea that the quality of your health coverage depends on your having a good job amounts to an historical accident in this country. During World War 2, the federal government imposed wage controls on businesses to help keep the cost of production low. The labor market was thin because so many people were serving in the military. But employers found they could still attract quality workers by offering fringe benefits, most notably, health insurance.
When the war ended, President Truman proposed the creation of an optional national health insurance program. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association blasted the idea. They used the dirtiest word they could think of in those days to describe it: “socialism.”
Rather than fight for his program, Truman and his allies compromised. They pushed employer-backed coverage instead, even though they considered this an inferior approach.
Sound familiar? Something similar happened when President Obama came up with his gift to the insurance industry, aka the Affordable Care Act.
The irony in all this is that today businesses and nonprofits constantly complain about how the cost of insurance coverage cuts into their bottom lines and budgets. Everyone is paying more for less.
A single-payer system would boost our economy by increasing profitability. It would also put more money in the pockets of consumers whose employers are demanding they pay an ever greater share for their health insurance benefit.
What’s more, in an economy where loyalty between workers and bosses is strained or nonexistent, and so many of us have become or are trying to be free agents, the idea that your health care might depend on who you work for seems creepily controlling, if not downright wrong.
It’s time we cut that cord.