Monday, September 30, 2013

Firing employees over Obamacare

So. It looks like a government shutdown is imminent due to the insane Tea Party zeal to repeal Obamacare. The Tea Party claims to be working hard to protect us from the damage that could be done by Obamacare. In this case, the cure is worse than the disease. A government shutdown would do far more damage to the economy than Obamacare will do, despite everything that Fox News says.

At least the government will continue to run with Obamacare. If the Tea Party refuses to fund the government, and I mean *all* of the government including Obamacare, we're in for a rough ride. The tea leaves say that the Tea Party will refuse to fund the government without removing funding for Obamacare.

There is going to be another round of discussions on the debt ceiling in a matter of weeks, too. That is going to be a much tougher discussion that the Tea Party Republicans are betting on with greater leverage to remove Obamacare. It's not about Obamacare. Their fight is about humiliating a president to make sure they can gain some seats in the next midterm elections. Their scorched earth policy is not about saving money for small businesses. They only need to pander to a few really big businesses to get the money they need for re-election.

On the subject of a default, there is at least one economist who says that a default might be a good thing. If the Federal government defaults on its obligations, that could bring about a drop in the value of the dollar big enough to offset the trade deficit. According to Dean Baker, economist at the Center for Economic Policy Research, if we balanced our trade, that would add about $750 billion to our economy and create about 7 million jobs. When it comes to the debt ceiling fight again, we might wake up the next day to find that the dollar is no longer the world reserve currency.

The Republicans claim to want to remove regulations so that businesses can run smoothly. The regulations are in place to protect workers and the environment. Let me give you an interesting example. See the image below?

Here's an employer who is really upset with Obamacare. He's probably a Republican, but he doesn't say. It might not matter to the employees who were fired, though. Why were they fired? They had "Obama for 2012" stickers on their bumpers. Was this employer trying to save all of us from the dangers of Obamacare? Maybe. Could he have gone about it differently? Sure.

How many good employees did he lose? We don't know. They weren't fired based upon their performance at work. They were fired for free speech, for having an opinion. That is a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution on the first order. Here's an employer so bent on personal freedom, that he was willing to fire anyone who supported his opposition openly.

It would appear that to the employer in the letter, employees are just pawns in a much bigger game to him. This employer was willing to commit financial violence in the name of achieving a political objective: making Obamacare so distasteful as to turn employees against Obamacare for reasons unrelated to Obamacare.

Is that the best you can do, big boy? Fire your employees who disagree with you so you can get your way? Sure, you can run your business any way you want. I get that. But how many lives did you interrupt? How much money did you cost the government? Was it really worth the effort? If the employees ever find out why you fired them, will you be happy with the litigation you'll have to deal with for your actions? Notice here, how important it was for the employer to remain anonymous. He might not be too proud of his actions.

We wouldn't be having this discussion if the "best healthcare system in the world" wasn't so ungodly inefficient. Blame it on the insurance companies, or blame it on the doctors if you like. Both of them are being coddled and protected from the one thing that could bring this whole farce under control: competition from the rest of the world.

Americans pay dearly for their healthcare. 18% of GDP is the cost of our healthcare system so that insurance executives can have their summer homes in Spain and so that a cardiologist can pull down $250,000 a year on average. Other industrialized countries pay about half of what we pay and they have better outcomes. How did we figure this out? Data. Lots of data.

If international competition works for electronics, clothing, cars and tech support, then it's going to work wonders with healthcare. The internet could make that happen in a big way. A high speed connection and a webcam can allow a visit with the doctor in India. The internet is enabling collaboration between people all over the world.

With more eyes on the problem, we could devise trade rules that allow doctors from foreign countries to train and practice medicine here with much greater ease. But doctors have lobbied against easing up on trade barriers for many years now, and they have the money to back that up.

I'm a big fan of Dean Baker because he's a free market economist. He's noticed that doctors and insurance companies have been protected from international competition through "free trade" agreements. He's even suggested some ideas on how we could trade with more efficient healthcare systems and reduce costs. If we cut our healthcare costs by half, we would be seeing budget surpluses rather than deficits.

This fight over Obamacare is a ruse to distract us from a much better solution. We could just globalize healthcare.
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