Howard Gleckman wrote a column (May 19, 2003) celebrating the new “third way” that Democrats have found in health care reform — mandating employer-sponsored coverage. At the same time, he dismisses individual coverage as “the darling of conservatives.”
However Mr. Gleckman chooses to characterize these ideas, the fact is that employer-sponsored coverage is a throw-back to the industrial age when lifetime employment was common, and divorce and two-income familes were rare.
These days people change employers frequently. Whenever they change jobs they must also change health plans — assuming the new employer offers coverage at all. Two-income families are not allowed to pool the husband and wife’s benefits into a single plan to cover the whole family. Covering non-custodial children can be impossible. And costs are through the roof.
Employer-sponsored coverage is already subsidized to the tune of $120 billion a year, due to the exclusion from taxation of the benefits. This is the third biggest federal entitlement in the country, after Social Security and Medicare. And it is hugely regressive, providing much larger benefits to wealthy people with rich benefits.
Some employers do a good job with their benefits programs, but many do not. They don’t know anything about health care and they care even less. Workers are often loathe to talk to their boss about their health care needs because of privacy concerns.
The president’s proposal for tax credits for people who cannot get employer-based coverage merely begins to level the playing field between the two forms of coverage.
It is interesting that the “third-way” supporters are so afraid of allowing people to make their own decisions about their own health care needs.
Greg Scandlen is the Director of Galen Institute’s Center for Consumer Driven Health Care. He is a graduate of USM and lived and worked in Maine for 15 years before relocating to Washington, DC.