Two Things I Learned From The Hobby Lobby Case

The first interesting thing I learned from the Hobby Lobby case was that it was a narrow legal decision that said for this administrative law to trump a law passed by Congress it must pass the strict scrutiny test. The Administration failed to show the court a compelling state interest to declare the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 unconstitutional. In the classic whac-a-mole style the court wisely avoided a discussion of the role of religion in the workplace. Here is Judge Napolitano explaining the Hobby Lobby ruling.

The second interesting thing I learned from the Hobby Lobby case came from the reactions of the Affordable Care Act supporters. The Affordable Care Act supporters have not quite grasped the idea that companies view health insurance as a negotiable benefit. Increasingly companies see employer sponsored health insurance as an employee benefit whose time has come and gone. The reactions to the decision reminded companies of the risk that health care crazies pose. I don’t think it will be the sole reason for a company to migrate over to a defined contribution plan but for those companies who were already looking at defined contribution plans for cost reasons, the decision just got simpler. The lure of getting back to running the company without the health care drama is very attractive.

The wise choice for the Affordable Care Act supporters would have been to let this sleeping dog lie. The employer sponsored plans are part of the 85% that was not supposed to be significantly affected by the Affordable Care Act. Making a fuss over the court ruling is counterproductive since it will encourage more companies to drop employer sponsored plans and embrace defined contribution plans. The drawback to switching over to a defined contribution plan is that it will create employer-employee chaos at an inopportune time. I can see businesses biting the bullet in 2014 but the Affordable Care Act desperately needs to settle down in 2014 and the last thing its supporters need is to try to explain more employer-employee chaos. If we have more defined contribution plans then we will likely have more people whose purchasing decision will be aligned with the individual insurance market. This will likely make it more difficult to achieve income redistribution through health care. Several health care pundits have quietly argued that income redistribution is a necessary policy objective for real health care reform. That may be true in their world but in the real world I suspect that these pundits have forgotten how much easier it is to get money out of companies than healthy individuals. The complaints could get real interesting because healthy people are notoriously passive-aggressive about health care costs. If the Affordable Care Act supporters really want to give the ACA a chance of settling down and succeeding, this is not the time or place to pick a fight with employers who for all practical purposes have ACA compliant plans. It is as if they do not want the Affordable Care Act to succeed.