February 7 2012

Employer Health Insurance Mandates Are Also a Recipe for High Unemployment

Hadley Heath

There's been an uproar - and rightly so - about the recent rule requiring employers to cover health insurance for contraception, even if they oppose contraception on religious grounds.  Of course this is disconcerting; no one should be forced to pay for insurance that will pay for a drug that they have moral objections to.

But there's a bigger debate here about the government inserting itself between employers and employees.  Carrie wrote this morning about how one kind of law - a minimum wage law - is meant to help people get higher wages but actually ends up raising unemployment and taking away opportunities from people who need them most.

Government shouldn't dictate how much we are paid, or what our compensation package looks like.  Recently, the controversy over the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) has been a moral one.  Birth control aside, many advocates of limited government point out that government shouldn't anyone to pay for the health care or health insurance of someone else.  This is true.  Government should never even have the intention of forcing people into contracts they do not wish to enter.  On top of reduced freedom, this will theoretically lead to inefficiency, increased cost-shifting, and higher costs because of artificially inflated demand.

And the practical results of such laws also illustrate this point.

When employers are forced to provide health insurance, this allows them less flexibility to work with employees to structure compensation packages according to their preferences.  When employers are forced to buy a certain kind of health insurance for their workers - in the case of ObamaCare, a more expensive kind of health insurance - this means workers may miss out on raises because the increased cost of their health insurance.

Or, as these overly burdensome regulatory policies so often do, the whole thing will in many cases backfire.  We saw how employers who offered mini-med plans (like McDonald's) were considering dropping coverage altogether.  Employer surveys have indicated that as many as 30 percent of employers who currently offer health benefits will definitely or probably stop doing so under the Affordable Care Act, many of them choosing instead to pay a penalty per worker than to pay for government-mandated insurance coverage.

The bottom line is this: When government selects all the coverage pieces that everyone is required to have, the price of health insurance increases because many people will be forced to buy coverage pieces they don't want and didn't previously buy.  When government tells employers, "You must buy this kind of health insurance for your workers," the cost of employment goes up.  When the cost of employment goes up, there will be less employment.  This may mean reduced hours or stagnated wages for the already employed.  For the unemployed, it means fewer job opportunities.

Employer health insurance mandates, like minimum wage laws, are a recipe for high unemployment.

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