Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Extra: Hobby Lobby, Healthcare and Unions

Oh boy!  er...Oh girls!

Has the highest court just opened the gates for a theocracy?  ...  through mini-corporate theocracies?

Maybe not.
One cannot expect the court to rule as if future courts will make the wrong decisions, though the public fears that the court might.

Confidence in the government in general is at record lows, and will probably dip even more for the Supreme Court since the Hobby Lobby Decision.  I can understand the people's mistrust of the executive branch and the congress, but I think that the Supreme Court is the hardest branch of government for people to understand, and I think they are often unfairly...uh....judged.

The Supreme Court's work- constitutional law, has always and will always be debated.  The work is tricky with many nuances. 

The question for the Hobby Lobby case:

Should a business owner be forced to violate their religious beliefs and have a hand in 'providing abortions' for their employees?

I know using the word 'abortion' instead of 'contraception' is extreme.  Hobby Lobby is opposed to two forms of contraception:  Plan B, or the morning after pill, and IUDs.   While most health professionals do not consider these forms of contraception to cause abortions, Hobby Lobby does.

If I were in their place, I would feel the same way.  I would not think it right under our constitution to have to violate my religious rights to provide this kind of healthcare- or any healthcare to my employees.

This would not be an issue if:

1.)  Private business did not carry the societal, and sometimes contractual, obligation of providing
      healthcare  for their employees.  

2.)  We had not just passed a revolutionary (for the US) new heathcare law requiring
       birth control to be covered by all healthcare plans provided by employers

Personally, and I cannot understand why Republicans are not with me on this: I do not think businesses should be involved in healthcare AT ALL.  It is an enormous cost and hassle for businesses and has nothing to do with the core mission of selling crafts or clothes or making cars etc. etc.

I do, however, believe that healthcare is a necessity for the population.  Everyone uses the healthcare system, and everyone deserves access to healthcare.  See my previous post on Common Good

If business should not be involved, but everyone uses and deserves healthcare, and also the Supreme Court upheld that we can be compelled to pay into the healthcare system, the solution is...Universal Healthcare, provided by the gov't paid for by taxes.

This was Obama's and many Democrats original conclusion, before compromising single payer views into the unrecognizable form the ACA took, which has maintained insurance companies as the arbitrators of our healthcare.

In any case, the court says that this is a narrow ruling, and will not burgeon into businesses and corporations discriminating against or imposing religious rules on employees.

Justice Ginsberg, who dissented, does not believe it is a narrow ruling and worries that the finding shows favoritism toward Christianity and does open the door to for-profit businesses imposing their religious views on employees.

"Our right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins," she persuades.

Justice Alito wrote that the decision does not allow for business owners to impose disadvantages on others.
The matter lies on this line:  whose freedoms are being restricted the most?  A question the bench has historically asked when making decisions. 

What recourse do the owners of Hobby Lobby have if they do not want to provide abortion services which could condemn them under their religious beliefs?  

Well, they could drop health insurance.  That was the only choice.  

Obama Care does not demand that employers provide health insurance.

Employees cannot take part of the new ACA Market Place if their employers provide health insurance.

Therefore, Hobby Lobby could have opted to not provide insurance at all, leaving their employees to the new ACA marketplace.   

The requirement in place for employers with over 50 employees is this:    If you offer health insurance, but one of your employees qualifies for federal subsidies (this means that you do not pay your employees well enough to pay for the insurance you provide), then you have to pay a cost sharing fine.  The general rule is that the coverage provided should cost an employee no more than 9.5% of his/her annual income and must cover dependents, but not spouses. The fine is $2,000 per employee if the requirements are not met.  Hobby Lobby has 23,000 employees, that would be about $46 million in fines if the minimum requirements are not met.  Their annual revenue is about $3.3 billion.

I could be wrong on the numbers, I am no expert. 

Hobby Lobby pays a high wage, $15 hr.  This would mean their healthcare coverage should cost no more than about $175 a month.  Good luck on that. 

So, do employers really want to pay all this money, go through all of this headache and paperwork, when the alternative is to have government provided healthcare?

Maybe this is what republicans complained about when they said that Obama Care is a pathway to Single Payer. But, between business and government, who has the a higher responsibility for healthcare?

What recourse do women have to find these contraceptions outside of the workplace?  The court suggests that for-profit businesses be allowed the same exemption allowed non-profits who do not wish to cover these services.  The exemption
"provide(s) women with coverage for recommended preventive care, including all FDA-approved contraceptive services prescribed by a health care provider, without cost-sharing, while ensuring that non-profit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage on religious grounds do not have to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage for their employees or students."  
 So, basically, women will have another option.

I love this!  I love this back and forth debating on where 'one's arm ends and another's nose begins.' It is the core debate on liberty and freedom.

I am not afraid that people's rights are going to start being oppressed by religious bosses.   The Hobby Lobby case is a situation of an employer being compelled to be the actor of a religious sin, that is, in effect- providing abortions.  They can not discriminate against a worker or customer just because that worker or customer uses Plan B or IUDs.

Also, I think business will and should get out of healthcare altogether. 

The court can only make decision based upon the questions asked, precedent in law and constitutionality.  That is it.  They do not, as a general rule, reach any further.  If there are gross injustices that come from this ruling they will be arbitrated further in later cases.

Cool.  I think this is really cool-  Hobby Lobby gained the security of it's constitutional right of freedom of religion; and women, thanks to Obama Care, will be taken care of.  If, in fact, the ruling does impose disadvantages on others, new cases will be summoned and the court will rule again. 

What can you do about the decision?  Not much.  We can't vote for Justices.  We cannot influence them.  We cannot fire them.

The Justices are picked because they have the supposed expertise and judgement to decide, impartially, whose liberty has right of way according to constitutional law.  An amazing vocation and service.  A complicated task, hard for ordinary citizens to fully understand (myself included). 

The best a citizen can do is organize and lobby representatives in the legislature to repeal the ruling, if that is what one wants. 

The court just ended their term, check out a quick year in review from PBS Newshour.

Now, a bit on Unions, because I know some of you are thinking about it behind this case:

I understand that Unions have bargained for healthcare coverage, but the idea of businesses taking care of healthcare came about when people had dirty jobs, before OSHA, before workers comp and other legal saftey nets for workers.  Is it time to take this burden off of business?

I think so. 

It is also long past time we have a conversation about the power of Unions, and the pros and cons for Unions in a modern world.

Another recent decision from the courts finally allows employees who are not in a Union to stop paying Union dues.  Hear! Hear!

Now, I believe strongly in the right of employees to organize and unionize, but there have to be limits to the Union's power...limits on their control over employers and employees.  There is a time for everything, a time for unions and a time for unions to recede when an employer is just and poses no threat.

More on unions in another post down the line...

Until then, enjoy the debates!