I am not sure where to begin dissecting the logic in Michael Steel’s recent attempt to sway public opinion on gay marriage. My first thought was that I must have misread the article, so I went back and read it again. But sure enough, the RNC chairman is trying to turn gay marriage into an economic issue by maintaining that it will hurt profits for businesses if they have to provide health insurance benefits to partners of gay employees.
This seems like a misguided position to take. First of all, I have to imagine that plenty of gay Americans get health insurance benefits from their own employers. If they could legally marry their partners, they might choose to switch to the partner’s health insurance plan, but that would mean leaving their own plan. Thus one business would see an increase in health care costs while the other would see a decrease. There wouldn’t just be an influx of new health care expenses for all businesses.
Second, the whole basis for this argument is illogical. Yes, it is a business expense to offer health insurance and other benefits to employees. But employers don’t provide health insurance for their workers for altruistic reasons. They do so because it has proven to be a powerful tool that they can use to attract and retain good employees. And those employees are making more money for their employer than they are receiving in pay and benefits. Otherwise they wouldn’t continue to be employed. When an employer agrees to offer health insurance benefits for employees and their families, they have to expect that a good number of their employees will take them up on the offer, especially if the employer pays a chunk of the premiums.
When a new employee is hired, the employer likely doesn’t know the employee’s marital situation. But if they are providing health insurance benefits, they have to assume that the employee either has a spouse and/or children or will have them in the future (most people do not remain single forever). This has to be expected – and accounted for in the budget – by any employer.
So when Steele starts trying to say that allowing gay marriage would hurt businesses by increasing their health care costs, I have to wonder what his actual motivation is. Obviously he’s opposed to gay marriage as a social issue, and he’s far from alone in that view. But trying to characterize it as a financial issue is a bit disingenuous.
We were impressed earlier this year when Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Colorado starting allowing same sex couples to apply together for family health insurance in the individual market. It didn’t change the price, since premiums are calculated per person on family plans. But now same sex couples can submit just one application, and pay just one premium each month, and be treated just like any other Colorado family when it comes to health insurance. This is slowly becoming more common in the group health insurance market too (with employers who don’t require that partners be legally married in order to enroll in the company health insurance plan), although there is obviously still a long way to go.