The NYT has done a great job chronicling the social costs of diabetes this year. A recent article focuses on the ADA struggles caused by the illness. Consider the following situations:
A mortgage loan officer in Oregon was denied permission to eat at her desk to stanch her sugar fluctuations, and eventually was fired. A Sears lingerie saleswoman in Illinois with nerve damage in her leg quit after being told she could not cut through a stockroom to reach her department. A worker at a candy company in Wisconsin was fired after asking where he could dispose of his insulin needles.
Some of these workers have rights under the ADA, but many live in circuits where judges consistently refuse to recognize diabetes as a disability under the Act. The employers sound heartless, but face an unavoidable market logic: when the health cost of diabetics average “five times that of workers without diabetes,” those who can eliminate “bad risks” from their workforce can gain an edge over competitors.
Our unique system of employer-based health insurance promotes Social Darwinism on two levels. First, the chronically ill individuals most in need of health care are the first to be shut out of it. Second, small employers are often the ones most vulnerable to catastrophic consequences of sick workers because they can’t afford to spread risk around (or buy plans that can).
This is one reason why I hope Jacob Hacker’s The Great Risk Shift lives up to its billing as “the essential policy book of the year.” Hacker realizes that there is something deeply wrong with a system that punishes people for being sick. There is little reason to expect some “private” or “charitable” solution to the problem of the uninsured, since nonprofit institutions have been stretched to the limit here and “good employers” that provide insurance will, as often as not, be undercut by more cutthroat competitors.
Much like the debate over net neutrality, the debate over employer-based health insurance will come down to our sense of the nature of fair competition. Hopefully we can all agree that a system that encourages employers to dump the most vulnerable workers is suboptimal.
Photo Credit: Flickr/beigeinside.