Breaking the link between jobs and health coverage would be a wise move


The notion that Obamacare is a disaster is now normative.

I heard a radio ad the other day. One person tells another, “You look upset.” The other guy replies, in effect: “Oh, I just found out that my boss dropped my health coverage because of that darn Obamacare.”

Marketers don’t usually hinge ads on a political point they think might be controversial. That would be risky. Why alienate potential customers?   Clearly, these adwriters think that “darn Obamacare” is a vast majority opinion.

But is the ad otherwise based on reality? Are people really losing workplace coverage due to the Affordable Care Act? Surely, some have. But how many? Solid data on this and similar questions remain hard to come by. The law is complex, the nation vast, and it’s early in the game.

But many estimates I’ve seen of how many folks will lose workplace coverage as the law takes hold strike me as too low. Even some good employers will seize this chance to get out of the painful business of managing health care. Instead, they’ll give their workers a lump sum to shop on the new marketplace exchanges.

And I say: Hooray.

A prime goal of any overhaul of the American health care system should be to loosen the iron link between jobs and health insurance.

We’re so used to that linkage we don’t realize it’s a) an anomaly among advanced nations b) an accidental result of World War II and c) a bad idea we should run from.

Why bad? So many reasons, so little time. The linkage doubles the pain and hazard of job loss. It makes cost-anxious employers more hesitant to hire. It leads people to take and stay in jobs they dislike, rather than seeking useful work they’d love.

One effect of this “job lock” syndrome is to dampen entrepreneurship. Instead of breaking free of the cubicle and launching their dream business, people stay on glumly because their families need health coverage.

Finally, as WHYY’s The Pulse explored on this weekend’s show, when your boss buys your health care, he’s into your private business in ways no sane person should want — nudging you, under the guise of “workplace wellness,” about what you eat, drink or do in your spare time.

It’s a chief irony of our time: Our paranoia about government intrusion steadily hands more control of our lives over to corporations. We drain power from institutions whose mission is to protect the common good, and hand it over to private entities whose mission is profit for a few.

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