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Editorial: Hobby Lobby ruling shows why employer-based health care should end

Published June 30, 2014 2:08 pm

Time to ditch employer health care.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives." — The Supreme Court of the United States, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, 1992.

Anything that stands in the way of the universal availability of medically sound methods of contraception stands in the way of the rights of women and, therefore, the rights of humanity.

And if, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in the Hobby Lobby case, some corporations can refuse to cover medically sound methods of contraception by claiming the religious freedom of "persons," that is yet another reason for the United States to move away from its status as the only nation where employer-provided health care is the norm.

In a ruling marked by a withering dissent and a cautionary concurrence, a 5-4 majority decided that it is a violation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to require, as the Affordable Care Act does, that privately held for-profit businesses provide health plans covering contraceptive methods that violate the religious beliefs of the individuals who own those corporations.

The linchpin of Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion is that, even though making contraceptive coverage widely available may be a legitimate goal of government, it is a goal that must be achieved with minimal intrusion into individuals' religious belief. And, Alito writes, because government rules carrying out the ACA already allow a work-around for religious organizations, they should allow the same bypass for corporations owned by religiously motivated individuals.

Those detours include requiring that insurance companies cover the controversial methods of birth control — specifically the "morning after" pill and IUDs — at their own expense, or that government itself pick up the cost.

Which suggests a proper course of action for all health coverage. Just leave the employers out of the expensive and complicated loop and help individuals obtain health coverage through the other methods employed by the ACA — aka Obamacare — expanding Medicaid for the poor and providing tax-subsidized coverage for everyone else.

Or, better still, just going to a single-payer system.

That would have made sense for Obamacare all along, except that it would be too disruptive and a violation of all that unfortunate "If you like your plan, you can keep it" stuff.

The very existence of employer-based health coverage was itself a work-around, a way for employers constrained by World War II wage controls to hang on to precious workers by giving them a back-door raise.

No other nation relies on such a cobbled-together system to provide such a basic service of civilization. It would be better if we didn't, either.