But having employers buy health insurance for their employees never made good sense. For one thing, it made it difficult for an employee to change jobs without risking losing health care coverage. It also made it harder for individuals to choose the kind of care they wanted -- or to know what they were actually paying for when they went to the doctor's office. Lack of choice means that many people will pay for benefits they don't want or will never use. And third-party payment means doctors and their patients rarely have discussions about the costs of fees or tests -- driving up health care spending.
So now the unions want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to make sure that those generous health care plans they demanded at the bargaining table still receive the same tax break all others do, while insisting that the government pick up the tab for those who can't afford the costs of health care they helped drive up. Of course the only way to pay for the latter -- without forcing the country ever further into debt -- is to tax the former.
The unions are no fools either. They know that the proposed 40 percent excise tax on insurance companies in the Senate Finance Committee-passed bill will be paid for by policy holders one way or another. Insurance companies will pass the costs on to employers, who, in turn, will either take it out of employees' pay or shift to lower-cost plans.
Democrats -- including the president -- can try to appease unions by passing a health care reform bill that can't possibly pay for itself. But following the unions' advice will be a bad bargain. Just look what caving into the unions did to GM: first the company went bankrupt, then it ended up owned by the unions. Is America next?
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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