Saturday, July 04, 2009

Labor protectionism by another name

Wal-Mart has recently released a letter supporting the idea that all employers be forced to include mandatory health coverage for workers. Think about this for a few seconds.

In the past Wal-Mart has fought state measures that would force them to provide health benefits for their employees. So then they were fighting something quite similar to what they are now supporting. Was this some benevolent change of mind? To quote an old TV show: "Don't bet your bippy on that."

Previously measures would have taken away a competitive advantage that Wal-Mart had over some of their major competitors. The current proposal, by mandating it for all employers, means that smaller competitors, who can't afford the measure, would be disadvantaged. Wal-Mart can afford it but they know that up-and-coming competitors may not be able to afford the same thing. Previously such a measure would have put them at a competitive disadvantage. The new proposal puts them at a competitive advantage.

Where state interference is good for profits then Wal-Mart supports state intervention. Where such measures reduce profits then Wal-Mart opposes state intervention. There is no consistent principle just a consistent desire to maximize profits coupled wiht an any-means-will-do mentality to secure those profits.

One of the most tragic features of the American health care model has been the union-inspired measure which links health benefits to employment. This sounds great but it means the policy is connected to one's job and not something the individual actually owns. Lose your job and you lose your coverage. Americans change jobs frequently, and that works to their good for the most part. It indicates a competitive market for employees.

But when health benefits are attached to a job it means Americans frequently lose their coverage for a period of time. The insurers don't mind. With each passing year your risks go up and so do your premiums. And since you are, in essence, starting over, all the previous payments you made don't count toward the new policy so the result is substantially higher premiums.

Individual health accounts would be far more beneficial to people than job-based benefits. But the unions don't want that. The current distortions in health care, caused by these programs to some extent, are now a major reason that employers are going to line up behind government provision of health care.

While everyone says that "all workers" should have health benefits no one wants to say that the workers are going to have to pay for it. So the debate is between forcing employers to provide it or having the state provide it. This means that employers will progressively begin lining up for the nationalization of health care. It will save them money.

Either way workers will be the primary funders. Either they pay directly, where they can monitor costs and know where their funds are going and what they are getting for them. Or they will pay higher taxes into the state and watch it disappear in the political black-hole. From that will emerge some sort of health care, muct akin to other government provided services. The services will be substandard and costly and no one will know why. There is no way to control what happens when that much money diasppeares into the federal treasury.

The net result is that workers will pay more their care and get less for it. A small number of people, who have nothing now, will probably be better off. A larger number of people will be made somewhat worse off. And a small number of people will be made substantially worse off. The total result will be a deduction in the quality of care in general.

As we move closer to a nationalized health care system we will see how the political process works. More companies will line up to try to push the laws in a direction favorable to themsevles or detrimental to their competitors. Other medical industries will push for "benefits" that they just happen to provide. Pharmaceutical companies will push for specific kinds of drugs while keeping competing drugs out of the markets. As political control of medical care increases the big players in medicine will work to manipulate the laws and regulations in their own favor.

Labels: ,