Americans Know Workplace Health Insurance Is Subsidized By The Federal Government, They Just Don't Care
I’m a big fan of the Vox.com website. The writers at Vox are good at making a point and supporting it with relevant data. Another reason I like the site is because they write a lot about health care in America and abroad. They cover Obamacare better than all the major news outlets because they focus on informing readers and not the latest headlines. However, when Vox writers use the results of a poll to make a point, I kind of wish they didn’t.
Polls ask simple questions without providing examples or definitions of the terminology it uses. So when Vox writer, Matthew Yglesias, wrote an article based on the results of a poll question in which nearly all of the respondents said that they did not receive a government subsidy to pay for health insurance, I was like, ‘meh.’ But because it came from Vox.com, I decided to look at all of the results from The Economist/YouGov poll referenced in the article.
Now, as an employee benefit professionals, I know that a lot of workers:
- Don’t understand taxes in general,
- Can’t conceptualize how pre-tax health and retirement benefits work, and
- Don’t know that subsidies can come in the form of tax savings
In my experience workers know that they are receiving a tax subsidy for their health insurance. They hear about it every year during the company’s annual open enrollment period. Some of them even have to elect these tax-favored benefits every year, but most are automatically re-enrolled. They just don’t know what it all means because it is never explained as the government paying part of your health insurance coverage. You are receiving a government subsidy…
But even if employers did explain their cafeteria plans as being subsidized by the federal and most state governments, workers would not care. And, they would probably still claim that they are not receiving a government subsidy because their benefits are part of their compensation and they earned it. Just like the Medicare folks...
For me the issue is not a lack of knowledge but more an attitude of I got mine, you get yours. It’s also an attitude of I deserve it, but others don’t. In fact, according to the same poll, about a third of survey respondents aren’t sure if they oppose Obamacare recipients losing their subsidies. And another 27% support a ruling taking away government subsidies from low-income Obamacare purchasers.
I won’t spend any time worrying about self-absorbed polltakers, but I am concerned about another group who gets subsidized government health insurance—the Supreme Court. The Justices have access to a huge number of federal plans with a huge network and a large risk pool. And when they take a poll later this week about whether Obamacare recipients should receive a health insurance subsidy in states that did not establish their own exchange, this poll will matter. Will they feel that they are entitled to a subsidy, but others are not? And will they vote to oppose subsidies based on this belief?