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It’s time to unlink health insurance and employment

As we look into Reimagining Health Care this week with more telemedicine opportunities and a much different environment than having a regular family doctor, it is past time to look at unlinking health care coverage with employment.

This pandemic has highlighted the problems of having the health plans of the nation’s workers connected to their employment. With 30 million people unemployed during a worldwide health pandemic, that means 30 million people and their families are not only faced with a loss of income, but most will likely lose any health insurance they had as well.

It’s a terrible time to be unemployed, but to have a lack of health insurance at the same time a pandemic is ravaging the country is a double whammy that is just flat out unfair to the American worker.

Combining health insurance coverage with employment is a relatively new thing. It began in the 1930s. A majority of Americans had health insurance independent of their employment until the 1960s. It was a good deal for insurance companies who made the generally safe bet that if a person was well enough to work, they were a good risk for health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was supposed to give people who were unemployed or wanted a different health insurance option an opportunity to shop for insurance in the free market. It turns out that market was anything but free and the ACA insurance option is actually not so affordable for most families.

The employment landscape is changing as we move further into the 21st century. The gig economy is gaining steam and will likely continue to do so once the pandemic subsides. Lots of people are self-employed, others work multiple part-time jobs with no options for health benefits.

The country needs a reliable affordable option for health insurance that is not tied to employment. The current system makes as much sense as giving home electric service as a benefit of employment but then charging 10 times as much for it once the employee leaves the company.

One quick fix is to allow state employment commissions to offer inexpensive health care packages as part of the unemployment benefit packages. Perhaps, unemployed individuals could transfer to the state health benefits program or be eligible for Medicare during the period of their unemployment.

Anytime someone even hints at having a discussion about changing the health care system, politics becomes a huge obstacle that bogs down any progress. The ACA could have been fixed into a workable system but, instead of adjusting it or replacing it with something better, Republicans have spent a decade trying to dismantle it.

The future cannot look like the present when it comes to health insurance. Major reform is needed. For a growing population of 30 million Americans on the unemployment line, the time for a change is now.

(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)