In last Sunday’s New York Times the columnist Ross Douthat makes an excellent case in “A Hidden Consensus on Health Care”, that Obamacare’s employer mandate, recently postponed for one year until January 1, 2015, should be repealed altogether. The reason for delaying its implementation is because of the complexity of the process for the government to gather all the necessary information about a company’s employees and coordinating with IRS tax returns to verify incomes. This is, of course, a mammoth job.
Furthermore, small and medium sized companies, near the 50 employee cutoff for mandatory coverage, will not have to immediately slow down their growth, in order to avoid the health insurance requirement. This could help boost the economy in the short turn.
In addition, as Mr. Douthat points out, it is the tax exemption for employer provided health insurance which is the biggest impediment for getting the cost of healthcare under control. It means that employees are shielded from the true costs involved in receiving care and therefore have little, if any, incentive to hold down the cost of their own care.
If this tax exemption was eliminated, perhaps as part of a broad based tax reform initiative, then employers could still offer an optional health insurance benefit to their employees but it would be taxed as part of their total pay. This would give employees an interest in holding down the cost of their own insurance. And they would also have the option to shop around on the private market, perhaps on the new exchanges, for a better deal.
The Employer Mandate is thus altogether a dead weight on our struggling economy. It’s certainly beneficial to have it postponed for a year. Let’s go the rest of the way and repeal it altogether! This would be a significant step towards true healthcare reform!
In yesterday’s New York Times the columnist Ross Douthat with “The Great Disconnect” makes a good case that the Washington to Boston corridor, i.e. the national elite, is disconnected from America’s most pressing problems. Instead of concerning themselves with jobs and the economy, healthcare costs and entitlement reform, fighting poverty and reforming the tax code, which are the real priorities of the American people, the issues getting the most attention by our national leaders are rather gun control, immigration reform and climate change mitigation which represent much lower public priorities.
Of course there is a political logjam between the two parties. The Republicans want to use free market incentives to improve the economy such as tax reform and the elimination of onerous regulations. The Democrats want more government stimulus which is controversial because it will increase the deficit. As far as Mr. Douthat is concerned both parties are pretty much equally to blame for the stalemate because of their unwillingness to compromise in order to make progress on our biggest problems.
In a situation like this there is really only one person who has the clout to make a difference. It is the President. Presumably he is motivated to improve the economy more quickly because lack of progress will be a blot on his record and a drag on the chances of his party in the next presidential election.
The problem is that his liberal ideology, which got him elected and then re-elected, is at odds with the one single measure which would most improve the economy. I am referring to pro-growth, broad-based tax reform where rate reduction and simplification would be offset revenue-wise by eliminating deductions and closing loopholes. If such tax reform includes the elimination of the tax deduction for employer provided health insurance (again, offset with lower tax rates!), the cost of healthcare would drop dramatically as consumers started paying attention to their own costs. Then Medicare and Medicaid could be brought into the same framework and presto, we have entitlement reform as well.
Republicans are strong advocates of tax reform. It’s too bad that Democratic leaders can’t see how everyone, including themselves, would benefit from doing this!