As The Free Agent’s atomic clock ticks down the months (yes, it ticks, as we who own them know) until the purchase of health insurance becomes required by law, she has been contemplating possible parallels between Obamacare and another compulsory insurance scheme, the conglomeration of state and federal programs known as unemployment insurance, or UI.
That the original intent of the 1935 law: to tide over employees who “through no fault of their own” are out of work and are “ready, willing, and able to work”, will engender a guffaw from anyone who knows a working actor in New York. Almost every employer in the country is required to purchase UI, and premiums are adjusted somewhat based on the employer’s history of layoffs or terminations. So far, UI looks like insurance: employees who are let go for cause don’t collect and employers’ premiums increase the more they throw people into the system. The only deviation is the obligation to buy a policy in exchange for the privilege of hiring an employee.
Over time . . . well, it’s the ‘over time’ that always gets us, of course. Over time, two trends have shape-shifted UI into as much an entitlement as insurance. The first is that instances in which an employee’s termination is deemed to be a result of his own actions have grown scarce. In the District of Columbia, the most governmenty of all jurisdictions, The Free Agent literally never heard of an employee being denied UI. Take, for example, the case of Chickadee, who drove a truck when The Free Agent was responsible for distribution of Hippy Week. Acting on an anonymous tip, FA discovered that the water bottle Chickadee carried under her seat was laced with gin. (Her defense was that she hadn’t drunk from it since she got the rental truck, but only when she was waiting for the place to open at 7am.) The functionary in Washington, DC, who of course wasn’t spending his own money and virtually couldn’t be fired, asked The Free Agent if she had told Chickadee she mayn’t drink alcohol while driving her truck. The FA politely replied that all concerned with the getting of driving licenses would have told her that repeatedly. “How did you know the bottle belonged to her?” he challenged. “She asked for it back.” Still, the employer was found to have been negligent in clearly outlining the responsibilities of truck driving, and benefits were awarded.
The second trend has been augmentation of specific UI taxes with other taxes. The account from which federal civilian and military employees are paid is funded by general revenues, as are the extended benefits Congress has been awarding this election year. If an insurance company had more claims than premiums could pay, it would have to start paying out of its capital, increasing rates, and possibly declare bankruptcy. Not so, thanks to the good old magic wand stashed at the Longworth office building.
Projecting these two trends from UI onto the health insurance mandate, The Free Agent makes the following predictions. She realizes she is nowhere near the bendy part of the limb when she predicts that ensuring every American (citizen?) a gold-standard of health care will require regular and large infusions of cash. Secondly, in the spirit of “the voter is never at fault”, she sees new dedicated taxes for producers of all manner of goods and services which are perceived to add to the expense of that care. “Tell us about it,” Phillip Morris is sighing, but here (ahem, Mister Bloomberg) is where you can stick it to manufacturers of trans-fats, salt, whiskey, Barcaloungers, and televisions, without actually having to pass bans. A portion of that revenue could be redirected to the makers of Lipitor, acaí berries, and ThighMasters. For those of you currently on an extension of an extension of unemployment insurance, may The Free Agent suggest a career change to lobbyist?