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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Joe Brown Columns

Let’s give everyone Medicare

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allows “closely held” businesses to deny paying for contraceptives through company-sponsored health coverage, is, depending on your political leanings, a victory for religious freedom or a defeat for women’s reproductive rights.

Regardless, it will help other small firms fighting against the mandate to cover birth control that is part of the Affordable Care Act.

Tribune reporter Keith Morelli talked to a Largo business owner last week who has a similar case pending with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Tom Beckwith is a Southern Baptist who objected to paying for pills that terminate pregnancies.

“If a woman wants to do it, she is free to do it,” said Beckwith. “Just don’t make me pay for it.”

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Although I have mixed feelings about the court’s ruling, I can see Beckwith’s side of it. What this decision does enforce is my belief that we have got to get employers out of the burden of providing health care coverage in the first place.

Writing in The New York Times last week, Uwe E. Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton University, raised an issue lost on most Americans: “The ruling raises the question of why, uniquely in the industrialized world, Americans have for so long favored an arrangement in health insurance that endows their employers with the quasi-parental power to choose the options that employees may be granted in the market for health insurance.”

Think about it. Your employer doesn’t pay for your groceries, utility bills or your auto or homeowner’s insurance. So why in the world is your firm expected to provide your health insurance?

Alone among industrialized nations, the United States meandered into an illogical arrangement in which health insurance is job-based. Not only has this left millions of Americans without insurance, it’s put American companies at a disadvantage in global competition. When U.S. companies move jobs to China, India or Mexico, they don’t just get cheaper labor, they escape the rising cost of employee health coverage.

The ACA, or Obamacare, was a decent attempt to make health care available to all Americans, but it seems to have been written more for insurers than sick folks. And the Obama administration has been changing the law at will. My suggestion: Medicare for all, a system that covers everyone and doesn’t tie health insurance to jobs.

I didn’t always believe in a universal system of health care. Until a few years ago, I had been steadily employed all my adult life by companies that provided health coverage. But when I got laid off and was unable to find another job, the “gap” reality that struck so many Americans for years suddenly hit me. Sometimes it takes a traumatic event for one to see the light.

Mention a universal system of health care, however, and many will scream about rationing, limiting choices and “socialized medicine.” Well, private insurers already are paying for some drugs, doctors and services but not others, and the Hobby Lobby ruling reinforces this.

And I’m not for socialized medicine. The Veterans Affairs health-care system is the only one in this nation that could be labeled as such because all personnel work for the government and all VA facilities are owned by Uncle Sam. I’m talking about a taxpayer-financed system where the government would be the payer for services in the private sector. Like Medicare.

Full disclosure: I’ll be eligible for Medicare in seven months, and I can’t wait. It will be a good thing for me in more ways than I can imagine. I think all Americans should have it, regardless of their age. I believe our physical and economic health would be better for it.

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