Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taxing Health Care Benefits

I read a NY Times article a few days back about taxing healthcare benefits to pay for some of Obama's healthcare reform plan. I thought, practically and politically, it's a bad idea, but it's one of the best ideas I've heard (and McCain had it first, if we believe the article). The political downside is touched on in the article when they talk about Clinton's attempt (which I should look up) and how people who had and enjoyed healthcare benefits were upset to have them taxed. Really though, to me, that's why this is such a good idea.

The very idea that one's own free or subsidized healthcare should not be taxed to assist in providing others with healthcare comes from the fact that we live in a society where we believe that discrimination based on income is acceptable. This is evidenced by the dearth of socialized services, the state of those services, and the stigma we attach to them and the people who use them. If we didn't think this discrimination were okay, we would be working toward some form of socialism.

This situation reminds me of the guy in Michael Moore's documentary Sicko (I think he's some sort of academic) who is explaining the perspective on healthcare in the UK. According to him, we could think of it as similar to universal suffrage. We think of universal suffrage (overtly, at least) as common sense. When there is a society that doesn't practice it, we call them names like "backward" or "oppressive". But it wasn't always that way. The idea of universal suffrage had to be force-fed over and over and over to Western society. The same is true of universal healthcare systems where they exist. It's common sense.

So if people get upset over a move like this...well, them's the breaks. As long as it's contributing to quality universal healthcare (and I don't imply that it will), then it's worth it. And that's critical: we don't just need healthcare, we need GOOD healthcare. And we're gonna struggle for it, because we also need to change people's minds about universal healthcare (and other socialized, life-affirming services too). We need it such that, if someone can't afford private healthcare on their own or with (taxed) employee assistance, they don't say "man, now I'll have to use universal healthcare;" instead we need them to say "man, good thing there's universal healthcare." It can't just exist. It must exist out of love of people and love of life.

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