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There has been something that has always bothered my about this whole contraception debate.  Namely the idea that the employer is somehow buying the insurance for the employee.  It smacks entirely of paternalism and completely ignores the fact that the employee is, even if sadly not in practice, an equal in the transaction.  The employee is providing a service in exchange for money and other perks including health insurance.  The employee has earned his health insurance in much the same way that he has earned his salary.  Saying that the employer is buying the insurance for the employee is just as inaccurate as saying that if the employee goes out and buys drugs the employer is buying drugs for the employee so it might be better to just give the employee company scrip instead so that the employer can control how it is used.  At its heart it is a paternalistic worldview, and once you recognize this simple fact you begin to see it everywhere.

A paternalistic worldview is hardly anything new.  It has been around forever.  It is the idea that one group of people, for whatever reason, is superior to everyone else.  This superiority is what gives them the right to control other people's lives while at the same time giving them the responsibility to make sure that their subordinates live their lives correctly.

It is a concept that is perhaps best illustrated in the concept of the White Man's Burden a century ago.  Back then it was manifested as the sincere belief that colonialism wasn't just blatant exploitation of people with less guns, but a duty of the Europeans to make the dirty savages' lives better.  It was of course manifestly and overtly racist as well, but in a larger sense this aspect is only tangentially related.  The real source of the colonizers superiority was their technology, but since they for the large part didn't invent their technology themselves they needed to lash onto something that gave them a veneer of association to the technology, namely their race.  But if we go back even further to feudal times it is easy to see that this worldview can be largely separated from notions of race.

The problem of course is that, at least in polite company, this worldview was soundly rejected fifty years ago or so in favor of the view that all (wo)men are equal by dint of their humanity.  But it should come as no surprise that the view would still persist in some segments of the population.  And since the rejection was primarily a rejection on racial grounds, the applications of the worldview in other areas tends to fly more under the radar.  We are perhaps nearing a turning point in the LGBT application of this worldview, but the application to the poor and working class still seems to be accepted at face value instead of being dismissed out of hand.

Job Creators as a term is perhaps a case in point.  All to often it seems the left attacks its use from the standpoint that the rich don't in fact create all that many jobs.  But this attack completely misses the point.  The real attack is that employers don't create jobs from an altruistic impulse, jobs are created as a partnership between employer and employee.

The treatment of the poor as criminals and drug addicts that need to be taken care of like little children instead of being helped in much the same way that we'd help a neighbor or friend impacted by a natural disaster.

Which brings us back to the beginning.  This seeming belief on the right that anything an employee earns through his labor is in fact a gift from the employer for which the employee should be grateful.  The idea that pension are somehow a bonus that can be taken away or reduced years after they were earned.  And health insurance.  The employer is not buying the insurance for the employee anymore than the employer is buying anything for the employee that the employee chooses to spend his salary on.  This analogy is actually much better than it would seem at first blush.  The employer is just providing the insurance.  What the employee chooses to use the insurance for, whether it be birth control or cancer therapy, is solely up to the employees needs.  Just as what the employee chooses to spend the salary that he earned on is solely dependent on the employees needs and desires.

As for the rebuttal that the government would seemingly be assuming the paternalistic role from the employer by mandating the insurance that must be purchased, their is a simple answer to that.   The government acts as the uber-Union of all its citizens, and like any union that negotiates with an employer it derives its power from its members and is answerable to its members.  Even if at times this might not seem to be the case, I think only the most cynical viewpoint views the leader of a union as an all-powerful overlord.

Originally posted to shaso on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 11:39 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Do you pay taxes on your employer-provided (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    health insurance? Why not?

    Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

    by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 12:22:41 PM PST

    •  The tax exemption for health insurance does not (13+ / 0-)

      come from one's employer any more than tax exemptions for dependents come from one's employer. Indeed, an employer is allowed to deduct the cost of health insurance as a business expense just like payroll.

      Nevertheless, your question is an interesting one, possibly more interesting because there are proposals around to tax employees for their health insurance benefits just like any other income AND to discontinue the practice of allowing employers to treat health insurance as a deductible business expense.

      Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

      by RJDixon74135 on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:14:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Uniforms, expense allowances, travel expenses (0+ / 0-)

        All 'costs of doing business' for the employer and non-taxable for the employee. And, oh yeah, health insurance.

        Note: I am not saying this is a GOOD way for things to be arranged, I am only saying it IS how they are arranged. An employer can refuse to pay for alcohol on an expense account, even though you really DID consume the alcohol (or provide it to a client).

        You asked a question, I gave you an answer.

        Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

        by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:41:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  The answer lies in the origin of employer (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean, MadRuth

      sponsored health insurance. During the Second World War there were wage controls in place. In order to compete for workers, companies offered benefits like health insurance.

      Here's an article from the New York Times that discusses some relevant issues: Is Employer Based Health Insurance Worth Saving.

      Most economists are persuaded by theory and evidence that, over the longer run, the contributions employers make toward the fringe benefits of their employees come out of the employees’ take-home pay. Economists think of employers as pickpockets, so to speak, who take a chunk of the employee’s total compensation and buy with it whatever fringe benefits they “give” their employees.
      Because employers can buy health insurance at a lower cost than an individual can and because it is not taxed as income, the employee gets a much greater benefit from the plan purchased by the employer than he or she would if it was purchased privately. However, that is not a gift. That is a decision by the U.S. government to use the tax code to encourage employer provided health insurance. I'm not defending that decision. I'm just noting it. It's also a benefit of being part of a larger insurance pool.
      •  Just pay taxes on your income, that's all I ask. (0+ / 0-)

        Or else: accept that the employer is paying the insurance premiums.

        Why do people here complain that Mitt pays income tax at 15% but have no problem with the fact some here are getting tax-cuts not available to others for exactly the same benefit?

        The question in this diary is: How can it be said that the employer pays for the insurance? I've provided the answer.

        Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

        by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 10:03:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Shaso - I don't agree with your logic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clem Yeobright, Odysseus

    First, it is the employers decision to offer a group health plan. There is no current law that requires an employer to offer it and a growing percentage of companies are dropping health insurance. It will be interesting to see what happens as the ACA comes into force. My view is that many employers too big to have subsidies will drop insurance coverage and pay the much less expensive "fee" and that the number of companies not offering health insurance plans may actually increase. Second, the value of the health insurance benefit to the employee is delivered tax free and is not included in your W2 like nearly all other forms of compensation. There is no special tax benefit to your employer to provide you with health insurance, but there is a clear benefit to the employee. However, providing that benefit is a decision made only by the employer. The point is that health insurance is a unique form of compensation and what is offered in terms of the type of group policy is a choice of your employer, not you.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:02:35 PM PST

    •  Mostly agree, but ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kyril, Odysseus, Chi

      1. The benefit to the employer is that he doesn't pay FICA and other wage-based taxes on it, as he would do if it were classified as compensation, although in both cases it constitutes a deductible 'cost of business'.

      2. Health insurance is not unique; employers pay for education expenses on the same terms, don't they? Also, uniform allowances, travel expenses, etc.

      Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

      by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:47:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Paying for an employee's travel expense (4+ / 0-)

        when that travel is a requirement of the job is a bit different from paying for health insurance. The employee gets a personal benefit from the insurance. To say that paying for job-required travel is a benefit is about like saying that paying for the heat and light in the area where an employee works is a benefit.

        Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

        by RJDixon74135 on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 03:52:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  In the tax law, though, it's the same thing (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Not saying it should be, but remember factories used to have dispensaries and doctors and nurses to keep the employees well and on the job ... My dad more than once went to see the company nurse in order to get off and come home when sick. Some still do, in some places.

          Health insurance just replaced that other expense.

          Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

          by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 04:04:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  On-site doctors & health insurance aren't the same (4+ / 0-)

            My company has nurses on duty for accidents that occur on the job. And they offer other sorts of health programs at work. The on-site services are free & directly managed by the company.

            They also offer comprehensive health insurance. The two serve different purposes.

            Travel reimbursement is also different. That's not in any way part of my compensation. Indeed, I would be fired if I tried to financially benefit from my expense reports!

            •  Try to focus: tax law tax law tax law (0+ / 0-)

              It's the same.

              Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

              by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 05:15:45 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Try to focus: question is who "provides" the Pill (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Clem Yeobright, Chi, RJDixon74135, VClib

                Tax law is irrelevant to the question of whether the employer is being forced to "provide" contraception by offering health insurance that includes it, as part of the employee compensation package.

                Though in fact, I pay taxes on the imputed value of the life insurance that my company offers me. So in any least one case, I DO pay taxes on an employee benefit.

                Tax law is tax law is tax law. It often has no obvious connection to logic -- e.g. consider the arcane rules for how tax applies to my employee stock purchse plan -- another benefit for which I pay taxes.

                •  You've made the case, but not your case (0+ / 0-)

                  The question is: who is paying for a benefit? If you are paying taxes on a benefit and the employer is paying payroll taxes on it, then it is compensation and you are the payor.

                  If payroll taxes are not being paid, then it is a cost of business which the employer is paying, just like other costs of business the employer assumes on your behalf.

                  Again, I don't argue it should be this way, only that it is.

                  Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

                  by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 06:48:14 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

    •  Just as money is fungible, in a total (12+ / 0-)

      compensation package, salary and benefits are intercangeable. Providing health insurance to employees has nothing whatsoever to do with an employer's generosity nor even an employer's sense of social responsibility. Rather, a compensation package is designed to be competitive in hiring the best employees, i.e., those who will return the highest possible value to the employer.

      In better times, if not in today's employment market, when considering whether to accept an employment offer, prospective employees commonly compared not only the salary and health insurance, but also policies covering things like sick leave, vacation, personal days, the number of paid holidays, educational benefits, pension plans, deferred compensation plans, stock options, on-site child care, and even non-tangibles like advancement opportunities.

      True, it may be possible to squeeze employees more than ever before in our lifetimes. I'm sure there are people who would work today for less than minimum wage, but smart employers look beyond exploitation opportunities to the long-term value of employees who are loyal and who will give their best effort. These are OLD lessons. It would be a shame if American business has to learn them again.

      Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

      by RJDixon74135 on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 02:54:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's the employer's decision to offer a salary. (5+ / 0-)

      Every benefit you receive in exchange for your labor or insight is merely another part of the contract between employer and employee.  As others have pointed out above, the fact that the government chooses (so far) not to tax this particular exchange of value has nothing to do with it being something the employer gives you out of the goodness of their hearts.

      Employees will make decisions as to whether they can afford to work for a given employer based upon whether or not compensation is offered in lieu of health care coverage, just as they have done about pensions or other retirement schemes.  There are people I know, in fact, who have told me that if their current employer stopped offering group plans, they simply couldn't afford to work for that employer any more.

      So, as with any other benefit, health care coverage or lack thereof will continue to be evaluated when employees seek employment, and those employers who neither offer it nor give large cash bonuses in lieu will wind up with less picky or more desperate employees, and chances are their businesses will run less efficiently.

      •  Why don't you pay taxes on some of your income? (0+ / 0-)

        If it is classified as a 'cost of doing business' - and many costs do not from the goodness of anyone's heart - then the employer is paying it. If it is compensation, then you must pay your income and payroll taxes for it. Why is that hard?

        Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

        by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 06:50:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Because the employer does not make that choice. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RJDixon74135, Witgren, Calamity Jean

          You do not pay taxes on it at the government's decision, not the employer's.  The employer can not choose to make you pay taxes on it or not, only the government can decide whether or not you will.  And the reason the government chooses to make some things tax breaks and others not is, in reality, a form of social engineering.  The government has decided that it wishes to encourage people to have healthcare (or at least health insurance), and thus makes it a tax free benefit.

          It is a form of compensation that the government wants to encourage, and does so by allowing it to be untaxed, although, of course, the current crop of Republicans have been doing their darndest to try and get rid of that exemption, and force you to pay taxes on health plans - Remember all of the attempts to wedge non-union and union workers apart through talk of 'gold-plated cadillac health care plans' and how Republicans drooled at the thought of being able to tax them...

          •  Many many people pay for health insurance (0+ / 0-)

            out of after-tax income.

            You don't because the employer pays out of his income.

            If I make $1000 more than you a month but pay $1000 of my income for health insurance that you get 'free', I am going to pay $62 more monthly in FICA and significantly more in income tax. Why do you think that is fair?

            It's not how it should be but it is how it is. Your employer is paying for your insurance as a 'cost of doing business', just as he may pay for your travel (even if you do some sight-seeing) or for your uniforms or for your car expenses.

            Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

            by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 07:18:00 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Fair? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Calamity Jean

              Who said fairness was any part of our setup?  It's a mess.

              Fairness would simply be single payer, administered by the government.

              But the fact that you choose a job in which you pay for your insurance in after tax dollars and I choose one that has employer coverage as part of the defined benefits that are attendant upon my job contract has nothing to do with fairness, it's simply the choice each of us makes as to whether or not compensation received for our work is worth taking the job.  If you want to pay more FICA and income tax, that's your choice, when you choose that job.

              •  That sounds just like Mittens! (0+ / 0-)

                We both have the same income and you are content to pay lower taxes than I, BUT you nevertheless object to the condition that permits that, i.e., that your employer writes your insurance off as a cost of business and mine doesn't and you are unwilling to accept the consequences. Nice.

                Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

                by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 09:53:28 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I'm refusing to 'accept the consequences'? (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Calamity Jean

                  My ideal is, and always has been single payer.  Barring that, I think it would be nice if employers weren't total dicks and squeezing every last concession out of employees to get that absolute best possible profit while letting their employees get sick and die for lack of insurance.

                  Given that I know that nowadays that's a hard thing to find, I'm advocating doing your homework and actually trying to find the jobs that still do offer group health insurance plans.

                  And that somehow makes me the 'bad guy'?  Are we talking past each other somehow, or am I in bizarro world?  Is there some axiom to your argument that I'm simply not understanding?

  •  I agree with your diary, shaso (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks for posting it.

    Eliminate tax breaks that stimulate the offshoring of jobs.

    by RJDixon74135 on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 04:18:40 PM PST

  •  Let's say I work at a kosher deli... (15+ / 0-)

    ...and one of the job benefits is a lunch coupon. It's part of a program managed by some outside company & is good at a variety of local restaurants.

    Now, if I choose to use that coupon to buy a ham sandwich, does the deli owner have a right to say "you can't make me buy you a ham sandwich because that's not kosher"?

    No, of course not -- he's not buying the sandwich, I am. The lunch coupon is "paid for" by the deli owner in exactly the same way that my wages (and health insurance, if any) are "paid for": they are all given to me in exchange for my labor. And it's not the employer's business what I do with them.

    Actually, I can't imagine any kosher deli owner telling a Gentile what sort of food I should eat when I'm not in the deli. And according to a quote from Boston's Cardinal Cushing from around 1960, the Catholics once had a similar attitude about government funded contraception -- their rule applied to Catholics, not the general population. How times have changed.

    •  Can he tell you you can't buy alcohol with it? (0+ / 0-)

      or lap dances?

      Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

      by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 05:22:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's a lunch coupon... (6+ / 0-)

        ...which is offered to let employees get a nutritious lunch -- the places it is good at don't offer alcohol or lap dances. But the places DO serve ham, which is a perfectly ordinary & legal lunch food for Gentiles. So the question is, should he be allowed to mark the coupon "not to be used for non-Kosher food", to force his Gentile employees to eat kosher?

        Of course, if it was for food at his kosher deli, then of course the food would be kosher. But the point here is that no one is demanding that Catholic hospitals prescribe the Pill, contrary to what Republicans are claiming. The requirement is that it cover ordinary services at ordinary non-Catholic hospitals.

        The question is: does that mean that they are "paying for" the health care services the employee uses? No, they aren't, unless they are "paying for" everything that the employees purchases with their wages.

        •  If they did sell beer, would you allow (0+ / 0-)

          that he can pay for your soda but refuse to pay for beer at the same price?

          The analogy is deeply flawed because Jews do not believe anyone goes to hell for eating non-kosher food; the rule - g_d's rule - applies to Jews only.

          Some companies do refuse to pay for alcohol on expense vouchers, even though they know it is standard and good practice for their sales staff to provide alcohol to clients.

          We've seen that, as currently organized, health insurance is the same as an expense account. Do you object to a no-alcohol rule?

          Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

          by Clem Yeobright on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 06:39:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Health insurance is NOT like an expense account (3+ / 0-)

            Health insurance is NOT the same as an expense account -- travel expenses really ARE the company's money, and they get to decide whether I fly first class, coach, or don't travel at all.

            Consider health spending accounts -- employees contribute their OWN money. And for the health plans, I get a choice of 4 -- the company pays a fixed amount regardless of which I choose -- because that's part of my compensation. And I don't account to the company for any of my health care -- it's none of their business.

            Enough. I don't know why you think that two things treated the same by tax law are therefore the same. That wouldn't be a compelling argument even without the many other differences.

  •  This is much bigger than some premium (5+ / 0-)

    When theologians in the 1960s told the Pope that chemical contraception wasn't abortion, he rejected their ideas. But in fact, priests have been telling Catholic women to "follow their conscience" for 50 years--until now!

    What's different? I explained it to a dear, progressive friend who has been sick and only now listening to the news--in shock!

    It's the census! White, Anglo-saxon women are simply not having enough babies.

    The guy who won Bart STupak's district is as anti-birth control as Santorum. I actually hand it to both of them, because they are honest enough to tell women what's in store for them.

    Ladies, if you don't vote for Democrats store up a lot of aspirins to put between your knees...or to take when those 10 kids give you a migraine.

    Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur.

    by MrMichaelMT on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 05:56:24 PM PST

  •  Thanks for posting this! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think it adds a great point to the overall argument, and provides us with another layer to consider.  Nice job!

    "Trust us!" - to which I say: "How?"

    by mechboots on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 08:22:09 PM PST

  •  I've had a Repub tell me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean, jan4insight, Abelia

    that even being an employee, taking wages for my work, made me a burden on my employer. If I wasn't an entrepreneur, I wasn't shit.

    Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. --Mark Twain

    by Debby on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 09:38:00 PM PST

  •  Individual mandate ...... (0+ / 0-)

    We could have had it ....

    "Proud to proclaim: I am a Bleeding Heart Liberal"

    by sara seattle on Sat Feb 18, 2012 at 11:32:15 PM PST

  •  My health insurance is part of my benefit pkg. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melpomene1, Nance, Amber6541

    I earn my benefits just as I earn my pay.

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam> "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Edna St.V. Millay

    by slouching on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 10:44:25 AM PST

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