Should the Employer Mandate Be Repealed?

 

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on Health Care”,  that Obamacare’s employer mandate, recently postponed for one year until January 1, 2015, should be repealed altogether.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!

Who is Responsible for the Sour Economy?

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!

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?

 

In the May 5, 2013, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat “What Health Insurance Doesn’t Do”, discusses a recent Oregon Medicaid experiment which shows that the Medicaid program improves health outcomes only slightly even though it does help people avoid huge medical bills.  As Mr. Douthat goes on to explain, the Oregon result offers a valuable suggestion for how to make American health care overall much more efficient and less costly.
The problem is that our health insurance system does not function like any other type of insurance.  All other types of insurance such as for house or car protect only against actual disasters like a house burning down and not routine maintenance repairs which affect all of us on a regular basis.  In other words, health insurance could and should be restricted to very expensive treatments such as for cancer, for example.  Routine health problems, which affect everyone over a lifetime, even including end of life care, can and should be paid for with mechanisms such as health savings accounts, which can be rolled over from one year to the next.
A more elaborate discussion of the inefficiency of American health insurance, and how to fix it, is provided by David Goldhill in the NYT on February 17, 2013 “The Health Benefits that Cut Your Pay”, and also in his new book on health care referenced therein.
Clearly the cost of health care is a huge fiscal and economic issue for our country.  Health care entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are the main drivers of the national debt.  The rapidly growing cost of Medicaid is also a huge problem at the state level because it is crowding out support for other essential major programs such as education and infrastructure improvements.  The cost of private health care paid by employers holds back wage gains and is a major factor in the growing income inequality in American society.
It is time for Americans to demand action on health care costs from our national political leaders.  It is a problem which affects almost all of us and therefore should be amenable to a bipartisan solution in Congress.  We need to get this message out much more strongly!