Michael Barone

Would you like to have a "skinny" health insurance policy? Probably not. But if you're employed by a large company, you may get one, thanks to Obamacare.

That's the conclusion of Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews. They report that insurance brokers are pitching and selling "low-benefit" policies across the country.

You might be wondering what a "skinny" or "low-benefit" insurance plan is. The terms may vary, but the basic idea is that policies would cover preventive care, a limited number of doctor visits and perhaps generic drugs.

They wouldn't cover things such as surgery, hospital stays or prenatal care. That sounds similar to an auto insurance policy that reimburses you when you change the oil but not when your car gets totaled.

You might ask how Obamacare could encourage the proliferation of such policies. It was sold as a way to provide more coverage for more people, after all.

And people were told they could keep the health insurance they had.

As Weaver and Mathews explain, Obamacare's requirement that insurance policies include "essential" benefits such as mental health services apply only to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

But larger employers, they write, "need only cover preventive service, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit, in order to avoid the across-the-workforce penalty." Low-benefit plans may cost an employer only $40 to $100 a month per employee. That's less than the $2,000-per-employee penalty for providing no insurance.

"We wouldn't have anticipated that there'd be demand for these type of Band-Aid plans in 2014," the Journal quotes former White House health adviser Robert Kocher. "Our expectation was that employers would offer high-quality insurance."

Oops. It turns out that Friedrich Hayek may have been right when he wrote that central planners would never have enough information to micromanage the economy.

It's probably true that businesses trying to attract and retain high-skill employees for long-term positions have an economic incentive to offer generous and attractive health insurance. Otherwise they'd lose good people to competitors.

But the kind of businesses mentioned in the Journal story -- restaurants, retailers, assisted-living chains -- tend to employ lower-skill workers who typically work there only temporarily.

In a high-unemployment economy they may not need to offer gold-plated health insurance to get the workforce they need.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM