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Humpty Dumpty Meets Le Droit du Seigneur

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The Supreme Court is now on the brink of a trifecta that will doom all corporate employees to a healthcare-version of le droit du seigneur, the medieval privilege of the employer to deflower an employee's bride.

The "Citizens United" ruling that a "corporation" is a "person" entitled to any person's rights in political affairs flew in the face of every common-sense understanding of either word held by any sentient human being, but never mind.

Coupled with the recent "Hobby Lobby" decision entitling family-owned corporations to inflict these employers' purported religious beliefs on their employees' health care coverage makes it clear that Humpty Dumpty is now on the bench:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

We know now who the master is to be, thanks these last two findings in a relentless stream of high court decisions favoring corporations over citizens. As for the trifecta?

It can only be a matter of time before it occurs to the Humpty Dumpty Court that families are made up of persons, and since even the most massive global corporations are now persons, then surely these corporations must also be families and therefore also be entitled to jerk their employees around according to whatever specious religious beliefs they may assert, as well.

And hey, if corporations can inflict their religious beliefs on employees' healthcare coverage, why not dictate any other employees' activities that are linked to the paymaster's religion? How about serving only Kosher meals in the company cafeteria, or imposing Sharia-law regulations on women's dress? And don't even get started on fundamentalist Christian employers' firing employees who enjoy same-sex marriage.

But let's stick to health care for the moment. I dare to hope there's a silver lining to the cloudy thinking this Humpty Dumpty Court casts over us all: with luck, they have now justified a massive movement to dissociate health care from employment, once and for all. Severing this link is nothing short of critical for the long-term health of both our society and the individuals within it.

Most Americans don't understand how unusual and ridiculous the American system of employee-sponsored healthcare is. Few have had occasion to study the dramatically different healthcare systems of other countries, and therefore assume ours is the way it is supposed to be and take it for granted, as a fish unthinkingly accepts the water around it.

In all our industrialized peer countries, however, employers have zero say-so in employees' health care coverage and decisions. Nothing. Nada. Nichts. Rien. Noll. Betsuni. They have no say-so in how their employees spend their wages, either. And why should they?

But in the fierce competition for scarce human resources in America after the Second World War, U.S. companies hamstrung by wage-and-price controls began sweetening pay packages with some healthcare benefits and our current jerrybuilt "system" was cobbled together from that shaky and now-discredited foundation. An expedient and inadvertent patchwork from the git-go, no wonder it produces such miserable results: we Americans spend vastly more money for intolerably lousier healthcare outcomes as a nation than any country we would care to compare ourselves with.

But the expensive, lousy results for Americans as a whole are just part of why it's so wrong. From that happenstance marriage-of-convenience between employer and employee around healthcare, we now wallow in the ludicrous Alice-in-Wonderland finding that an employer can dictate how the employee will spend the healthcare-related part of their legitimate compensation while, presumably, even this absurd court won't get around to holding that the employer could have any say-so whatsoever about how any of the rest of the employee's compensation "package" would be spent.

Enough already. We who have been employers in recent decades never wanted to be responsible for this mess anyhow. We inherited it from those who started it more than half a century ago as a canard to end-run wage-and-price controls, and we're living with the compounded deceptions and compromises that are the evil spawn of that unholy arrangement. Let's just declare it hopelessly flawed, sever the link with employment and support the movement toward a program of coverage that enables every American and every employee to spend what healthcare monies are available to them on the care that they, and they alone, are inclined to purchase. American medical providers are capable of delivering the finest healthcare in the world and do it routinely for those who have the freedom to make and pay for their own choices. It is high time that this freedom is granted to all Americans, everywhere.

We know the alternative. We see where it has led, and where it is leading. It was ugly in its medieval form, and it's just as ugly in its latter-day form. End this abomination right now.