The Stop & Shop Strike: Important, Yet Just a Distraction
[Stop & Shop], based in Quincy, Mass., wants union workers to contribute to their health-care premiums and allow it to switch from an employer-paid pension fund to a 401(k) plan for new employees. [Union Official Jim Riley] said the employees would be willing to help pay the premiums if their health-care plan is improved.The big insurance companies must either sit back and laugh, or maybe just breathe a sigh of relief when they read a story like this, thankful that America’s employment based system of health insurance allows them to raise rates without improving the quality of their product, while deflecting all of the blame on to employers.
Stop & Shop is not responsible for rising healthcare costs. Insurer decisions beyond Stop & Shop (or any employer’s) control, motivated by over-regulation state mandates, are responsible for that. Neither are Stop & Shop employees unreasonable in objecting to being charged more for the same coverage. When insurance companies want to charge higher prices for the same product, consumers should have the right to do what they would do with any other type of product — to look for a better deal from a different supplier and to take their business there when they find one. Stop & Shop employees don’t have that option. Because of the way that insurance law is structured, most employees of Rhode Island businesses don’t. We’re all locked into a single, employer-provided option for health insurance and told “take it or get nothing at all”.
Stop & Shop’s management didn’t create the system that binds health insurance to employment, they are just trying to get along within it. That system, and not Stop & Shop’s little corner of it, is what needs changing. State mandates should be relaxed, so that cheaper insurance policies are available. People should be given the option of high-deductible insurance plans and tax-free HSAs to cover their routine, recurring expenses. And individuals should be given the option of purchasing their health insurance from states where coverage is cheaper. These reforms could be combined in a way that would allow people to address their personal, medical needs without consulting with their employers.
If these options were available, many Stop & Shop employees would be able to find an affordable health plan that suited them. Some might even see an increase in their take-home pay. And, as an additional benefit, we would skip over a whole lot of labor strife that does very little to resolve the heart of the healthcare issue, by taking employers out of a role they don’t want anyway as middlemen between individuals and insurers.
Will we ever see any interest from the left in the kinds of health insurance reforms that empower indivdual employees? Or are the forces in government and politics who should be labor’s allies more interested in managing the lives of employees, maybe even in just using them as a pathway to political power, than they are in giving those employees the tools they need to make their lives better?