Is it time to require all employers to provide health care for their employees?


      Having just returned from a conference at Oxford University in England where we were discussing the effect of pension and health liabilities on global competitiveness, I have been thinking about the question of how our current voluntary benefits system affects intra-business competitiveness within the US, an often overlooked aspect of the problem.
    Instead of fussing with the question of what, if anything, should the states be able to do to reduce the number of uninsured individuals and getting all tangled up in ERISA preemption questions, is it time for Congress to consider the question of whether all employers should have some responsibility for financing a portion of health care costs for their employees? Should Congress, as part of a broader health care reform proposal, consider adopting a Federal "pay" or "play" approach whereby all employers would have the choice of providing benefits that cost X (e.g., X cents/hour, X percentage of payroll) or contributing an equivalent amount to a public insurance pool under which all individuals without insurance would obtain coverage? If employers should continue to be in the mix at all in the future, would that be a fairer way to equalize the funding of the system, rather than letting employers that voluntarily provide coverage for their employees continue to subsidize other employers that don't through cost-shifting?

Phyllis Borzi