It’s counterproductive to worry about why an organization opposes the president’s latest iteration of health-care reform. At least for now, anyone working to defeat this monstrosity is an ally.
The National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, has just released a new statement by their president, Terry O’Neill, which says that the White House reform bill “denies women’s basic rights” and is “a giant leap backward for women.” NOW supports a single-payer, Canadian-style health-care system. They’re disappointed current proposals don’t contain strong enough “public options,” and worry the bill restricts coverage for abortion. They also believe current proposals don’t go far enough in eliminating insurance companies’ ability to consider risk factors like gender and age in setting premiums.
I’d argue NOW has it exactly backwards. A single-payer system would be far worse for women because it would result in rationed care, lower quality care, and greater government control of what procedures are allowed. And that’s just a few of the “fundamental differences” the president has referred to.
Yet there’s another reason to reject this legislation that should unite NOW and free marketers: It would discourage companies from hiring lower-income workers, particularly those with dependents, which especially would disadvantage single moms.
Section 4980H (under Title 1, Subtitle F, Part II, Section 1513) of the Senate’s bill stipulates large employers that fail to provide employees and their dependents access to insurance meeting the government’s “minimum essential coverage” definition face penalties if at least one full-time employee obtains insurance using a government subsidy. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explains (while calling the provision “the worst policy in the bill, and possibly in the world”), the penalties could be considerable, and will create disincentives for hiring poor parents.
Rather than a simple employer mandate that forces every employer over a certain size to provide health-care insurance or pay a small fee, the free rider approach penalizes employers for hiring low-income workers who are eligible for subsidies. That will create an incentive to do one of two things: Don’t hire low-income workers (hire a teenager looking for a job rather than a single mother, or hire a housewife looking for a second job rather than an unemployed breadwinner), or hire illegal immigrants.
And it actually gets worse. The employer pays more if the low-income worker needs subsidies for his family as opposed to just himself. So it not only discriminates against low-income workers, but it particularly discriminates against low-income parents. Single mothers will get the worst deal, as they have lower incomes, and as you might expect, children who need health care.
Surely legislation penalizing the hiring of single moms meets NOW’s definition of “anti-woman.” Defenders could argue the intent is not to penalize hiring, but to encourage companies to provide benefits to employees. Yet these are the kinds of unintended consequences inevitable in a bill that tries to micromanage so many aspects of a very complicated system. Mandates are supposed to ensure adequate coverage, but inevitably drive up costs. Cost-cutting measures are supposed to encourage efficiency, but will inevitably reduce the quality and quantity of care that’s available. Expanding health-insurance coverage helps the uninsured, but means that as a nation we’ll be consuming more health care and paying more for it.
NOW has its own reasons for opposing the health-care bill, and that’s fine. A little more digging, though, and it might uncover other ways this legislation would — and big government regularly does — fail the women NOW claims to represent.
— Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Voice and a contributor to National Review Online.