If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

Low-skilled Workers Get Raw Deal Under Obamacare

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Would you like to have a "skinny" health insurance policy? Probably not. But if you're employed by a large company, you may get one, thanks to Obamacare.

That's the conclusion of Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews. They report that insurance brokers are pitching and selling "low-benefit" policies across the country.

You might be wondering what a "skinny" or "low-benefit" insurance plan is. The terms may vary, but the basic idea is that policies would cover preventive care, a limited number of doctor visits and perhaps generic drugs.

They wouldn't cover things such as surgery, hospital stays or prenatal care. That sounds similar to an auto insurance policy that reimburses you when you change the oil but not when your car gets totaled.

You might ask how Obamacare could encourage the proliferation of such policies. It was sold as a way to provide more coverage for more people, after all.

And people were told they could keep the health insurance they had.

As Weaver and Mathews explain, Obamacare's requirement that insurance policies include "essential" benefits such as mental health services apply only to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

But larger employers, they write, "need only cover preventive service, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit, in order to avoid the across-the-workforce penalty." Low-benefit plans may cost an employer only $40 to $100 a month per employee. That's less than the $2,000-per-employee penalty for providing no insurance.

"We wouldn't have anticipated that there'd be demand for these type of Band-Aid plans in 2014," the Journal quotes former White House health adviser Robert Kocher. "Our expectation was that employers would offer high-quality insurance."

Oops. It turns out that Friedrich Hayek may have been right when he wrote that central planners would never have enough information to micromanage the economy.

It's probably true that businesses trying to attract and retain high-skill employees for long-term positions have an economic incentive to offer generous and attractive health insurance. Otherwise they'd lose good people to competitors.

But the kind of businesses mentioned in the Journal story -- restaurants, retailers, assisted-living chains -- tend to employ lower-skill workers who typically work there only temporarily.

In a high-unemployment economy they may not need to offer gold-plated health insurance to get the workforce they need.

Such employers would have to pay a $3,000 penalty for each employee who buys insurance on Obamacare's health insurance exchanges. But it seems likely that many workers, especially young ones, would opt not to pay the hefty premiums for that.

The problem here is that Obamacare's architects seem to misunderstand the concept of insurance.

People buy insurance to pay for low-probability, high-cost and undesirable events. It doesn't make sense to hold onto enough cash to replace your house if it burns when you can buy an insurance policy that will cover that unlikely disaster.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a different idea of what insurance is.

In response to an American Society of Actuaries report that health insurance premiums would rise 32 percent under Obamacare, she said, "Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don't pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus."

Her idea apparently is that insurance should pay for just about every health care procedure.

In her defense, the World War II decision to make the cost of health insurance deductible for employers and nontaxable for employees has moved things in that direction. Many people have come to expect that.

But as the Daily Beast's Megan McArdle commented, "Coverage of routine, predictable services is not insurance at all; it's a spectacularly inefficient prepayment plan."

Some Obamacare architects, including its namesake, want to move toward a single-payer system in which government would pay all health care costs.

Many Obamacare opponents want a bigger role for markets, allowing consumers to choose insurance that covers catastrophes and paying for routine costs with tax-free (and in some cases subsidized) dollars.

But if large numbers of employees are enrolled in "skinny" health insurance plans, as the Wall Street Journal article suggests, Obamacare will have produced an unanticipated outcome no one wants.

People stuck with these policies will have insurance that pays for the equivalent of oil changes (up to six a year!) but not for the equivalent of wrecked car. Just the opposite of real insurance.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2013 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Michael Barone.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.