The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby may have provided new ammunition in support of the fight to expand Medicare to all Americans. In a narrowly tailored ruling, the court’s 5-4 majority found that employers could claim a religious exemption under federal law and refuse to offer birth control coverage in their employees’ health plans. The ruling originally covered four kinds of birth control objected to by Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts company owned by religious conservatives. But the next day, the court immediately expanded the ruling to include all types of birth control.
The decision has rightly caused a public uproar around the country. But will it finally cause Americans to demand an alternative to employer-sponsored health coverage? Do people really want to continue letting their bosses decide – rather than themselves and their doctors – what kind of treatment to get? Writes health economist Uwe Reinhardt in the New York Times in The Illogic of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance:
The ruling raises the question of why, uniquely in the industrialized world, Americans have for so long favored an arrangement in health insurance that endows their employers with the quasi-parental power to choose the options that employees may be granted in the market for health insurance. For many smaller firms, that choice is narrowed to one or two alternatives – not much more choice than that afforded citizens under a single-payer health insurance system.
The answer to Reinhardt’s question is probably simply that most Americans don’t know any other system, and so long nothing goes wrong with them personally accessing the health care they need, why change anything? But, what’s different now is that the Hobby Lobby decision targets a huge group – women. Women represent a little over half the country. Add the men in their lives who are just as angry over Hobby Lobby and how it could affect them, and you’ve got a potentially massive coalition for change.