May 28, 2009

Good for Business

Way off topic, and way out of my area of expertise--my eyes glaze over at the mere words "health care reform"--but this article, about how universal access to health insurance would actually be great for self-employed people and small businesses (via the indispensible Yglesias), is worth a look. Nut grafs:

Some of tomorrow’s potential entrepreneurs are today’s employees at firms that provide health insurance. They may have powerful new ideas that will build the firms of tomorrow. But if they leave their current job to work on those ideas they may find themselves without access to reliable health insurance. If they are very young and healthy, this may not be a major impediment. But for older entrepreneurs who have developed ideas through years of working for others, the fear of losing health insurance when they go out on their own can be a barrier to taking that leap.

...The most convincing research, by Alison Wellington, mirrors the findings of other job mobility studies: Americans who have an alternative source of health insurance, such as a spouse’s coverage, are much more likely to be self-employed than those who don’t. Wellington estimates that universal health care would therefore likely increase the share of workers who are self-employed (currently about 10 percent of the workforce) by another 2 percent or more. A system that provides universal access to health insurance coverage, then, is far more likely to promote entrepreneurship than one in which would-be innovators remain tied to corporate cubicles for fear of losing their family’s access to affordable health care. Indeed, even the Galtians among us should be celebrating the expanded potential for individual enterprise once the chains tying them to a job that provides insurance have been broken.

The story doesn't directly address this, but I should add that as a one-time manager at a small, leanly budgeted startup newspaper owned by a large but relatively miserly corporation, I regularly faced the dilemma of either hiring one qualified person full-time with benefits or getting that person's workload done by a stable of freelancers or part-timers. This was not an uncommon dilemma, even in the "boom" years, and it seemed plunkingly obvious to me that whether or not the company I worked for could afford more full-time-with-benefits employees (they probably could and eventually did), the burden of providing insurance functioned as a powerful disincentive for any employer to hire people full-time when they could get the same work done with odd jobbers, particularly in a buyer's market like journalism (and a then-labor-lukewarm state like California). I've never understood why the business lobby and/or its shills in the Republican and Democratic parties haven't seen or made this point--that our current ad hoc, jury-rigged health insurance "system"--basically a half-assed hold-over of long-ago, post-WWII union contracts that have outlived their sell-by date--is a distorting burden on business that would better be shouldered by the government.

Add the problem of "job lock" to the moral and medical running sore that vast numbers of uninsured Americans create, and I don't see why universal access of some kind is not a relative no-brainer for even pro-business types.

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