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Small Business Employee Benefits and HR Blog

Employers pass the costs on

employers pass on health costsI just read this post from InsureBlog about how the reform discussion is missing a basic understanding of how economics work.  The point they make is obvious, but it's not one I've seen mentioned elsewhere (including on this blog).

The argument they make is that penalizing employers with an 8% fine for not providing health insurance isn't exactly punishing employers.  In their words:

...these "fines" will be passed along to employees (in the form of lower wages) and consumers (in the form of higher costs).

The obvious counter-argument is that by this logic, the same is true if employees have to pay for health insurance.  Those costs are also ultimately coming from consumers.  You could argue that all money ultimately comes from the same place so it doesn't matter who pays for health insurance.

The reason it matters is because humans are irrational and our behavior might be different based on who is directly paying for something.  If an individual has to open up his or her wallet to pay for health insurance, they're likely to feel more involved in the process and be more responsible medical consumers as a result.

With employers paying, healthcare seems "free" even though it never is.  As I've mentioned before, I consider this the main reason the system is broken right now.

Additionally, by creating complex rules that disguise where the money is coming from, the chances of companies and individuals making poor decisions increases.  If you just hold individuals responsible for buying their own insurance, purchasing insurance is relatively straightforward.  If you require individuals to have insurance (or pay a 2% fine) and employers to provide insurance (with an 8% fine) and add the complicated tax plans on top of that, some people are bound to get confused and make mistakes.

I overuse this quote, but it's very fitting here: "Simple rules lead to complex behavior.  Complex rules lead to stupid behavior"