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February 23rd, 2012 7:05 pm
Rise of Self-Employed Grows Constituency for Health Care Reform

My column this week explains how WWII wage ceilings and a compliant Congress teamed up to create employer-based health insurance, a market distorting phenomenon the reduces take-home pay while increasing both health care spending and widespread dissatisfaction with the results.  (When was the last time you heard anybody happy about the cost or care in an HMO?)

Of course, one of the reasons this problem is allowed to persist is the lack of a motivated constituency to change the status quo.  That may be changing thanks to the Great Recession.

According to Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., between 2007 to 2011 there has been a steady rise in the numbers of independent contractors in industries like real estate, financial services and natural resource extraction.

More recently EMSI showed how self-employed money management consultants are adapting very well to the new economic landscape. “The surprising thing to note is the huge growth that took place in the three money management occupations – personal financial advisors, securities/commodities/financial services sales agents, and financial analysts.”  Many of these jobs are classified as non-covered, i.e. independent contractors who service clients rather than employees who work for employers (and thus get benefits).

The rise of the independent contractor makes perfect financial sense for a business looking to shred costs while maintaining quality in services and products.  The legal profession is being transformed by a switch to contract-based work for attorneys while other white collar jobs like money management are following the same route.

It is very likely that this type of vendor-client relationship will come to redefine the work life of many Americans who in a previous era may have counted on a brick-and-mortar institution to cover everything from an expense account to health care benefits.  But if millions of American workers are to be recast as intellectual entrepreneurs, the federal tax incentive to exempt employer-based health insurance but not insurance purchased by individuals or families has to change.

As I explain in my column, the Heritage Foundation has an easy fix to this problem.  From my column:

In Saving the American Dream, a team of Heritage experts propose transforming the existing exemption into a “uniform, nonrefundable federal tax credit” to assist individuals and families purchase health insurance.  The annual net value of the tax credit would be $2,000 for an individual and $3,500 for a couple or family.  The credit could be used “either to offset the cost of coverage offered through the workplace or to buy insurance outside the workplace.  For most middle-income working families, the value of the credit is similar to the tax relief that they receive for health insurance today.”

Law always lags behind reality, but if a presidential candidate wants to make an easy reform that will remove a huge disincentive to become an intellectual entrepreneur, adopting the Heritage Foundation’s health insurance tax credit would be a huge step in the right direction.

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