Take Women’s Health Care Out of Employers’ Hands: The Hobby Lobby Problem and the Single-Payer Solution

I was not shocked to learn that the SCOTUS sided in favor of a for-profit corporation over real human beings in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. considering its recent history. The Roberts court strengthened the concept of corporate personhood in the Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission case in 2010, ruling that businesses were entitled to the same right of political speech—spending—as any individual citizen. On Monday, five male Supreme Court justices ruled that “closely-held companies”  were patriarchal entities who shared religious identities. The 5-4 decision allows particular employers the right to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement, ultimately leaving women without the ability to buy coverage that includes certain forms of preventive care.

The ruling is further evidence of the growing power of business in our political and economic system. Given the power of individuals with immense and disproportionate capital, wealth, and influence, “closely-held companies” and publicly traded corporations have the ability to limit women’s choices in the so-called “free” marketplace. Such a political and economic system allows Hobby Lobby to deny insurance plans  that include preventive care for women while, according to Mother Jones writer Molly Redden, investing more than $73 million in mutual funds associated with producing emergency contraceptive pills and drugs used in performing abortions. So much for consistency and individual liberty if your name is not followed by the title, “incorporated,” and you possess female reproductive organs.

The Burwell ruling underscores the limits of employer-based insurance and the need for a single-payer system. Why not take these sorts of health questions out of the hands of employers who share myopic views about medicine and women’s health? Why not pool our resources and bargain as citizens for affordable comprehensive coverage for everyone?

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn and political scientist Howard Schweber also argued that the SCOTUS ruling is evidence for the need of a single-payer system. What if I told you that the ACA included a pathway towards potentially creating one?

The path lays in an unheralded ACA provision that Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Mary Landrieu and then-Republican Senator Scott Brown sponsored in 2011—the “Empowering States to Innovate Act.” The law allows states to opt out of the healthcare exchanges starting in 2017 if they can prove that they could provide comprehensive coverage comparable to the ACA-established marketplaces. Vermont is currently seeking such a strategy by trying to establish its Green Mountain Health Care. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill allowing the state government to pursue a single-payer plan in May 2011 that would eliminate employer-based insurance. Of course, those advocating for Green Mountain Health Care have run into political and economic obstacles, including the contentious debate about the plan’s structure and costs. But we should expect a rigorous and contentious debate considering the ambitious, if not radical, scope of the plan. [1]

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There is a catch. Supplanting employer-based systems would first require intense political organizing and movement building on a state level. It would entail fighting a political conflict against corporate interests and their political lackeys. It would necessitate building a dynamic broad-based multi-racial coalition akin to the southern Moral Mondays movement comprised of labor unions, men and women workers from various sectors, the unemployed, health care advocates, and sympathetic politicians. It is important to note that such a movement would face serious challenges and questions that would have to be addressed. How would one organize support for a single-payer system in heavily Republican states where Governors refuse to even expand Medicaid? According to one of the architects of Vermont’s proposed health care system, Harvard scholar Willian C. Hsaio, the existence of Medicaid, already embedded deeply in the structure of the U.S. health care system, could hinder states from achieving maximum flexibility when devising and implementing plans.[2]

Such a movement would illustrate how comprehensive health care for everyone is a human right and, this is very important, a public good, not ahealth care is human right private commodity. The fact that the health care system needed reform in the first place demonstrates how wasteful and ineffectual employer- and market-based health insurance is. Health care for women, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued, is an essential good. For those who worship economic growth, full coverage for women could help boost labor productivity and drive economic expansion. It is also essential to realize that liberty and the pursuit of happiness include the pursuit of freedom and pleasure. Reducing health care and contraception only to issues of labor productivity dehumanizes women by stigmatizing their sexuality. There does not seem to be a problem that Hobby Lobby reinforces male privilege within health coverage among companies who decide to opt out. It is reported that Hobby Lobby would still cover Viagra and vasectomies for men. Why should women pay for Viagra for men to experience and act on sexual desires while other policies penalize women for wanting to express their own? Male advocates for Hobby Lobby should not be so myopic about birth control. Part of functioning in a democratic society entails paying for services for others that we may not use, or even support. We pay for those services because it is just. As citizens who comprise roughly half, if not more than 50 percent of the population, the argument that women are entitled to equal and full coverage under the law makes sense in a supposedly free marketplace.

Ultimately, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was not just about the freedom of CEOs and corporate persons. It is about the labor (which are human) rights of women workers. Justice Ginsburg’s citation of a 1992 Planned Parenthood case in her dissent reflects this point:  “’The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.’”[3] Burwell was also about inequality. Gender discrimination and inequality was embedded in the pre-ACA for-profit insurance system. Justice Ginsburg also points to this in her dissent. Female workers devoted 68 percent more of their earnings to acquiring health care generally.[4] It is reasonable to surmise that part of the gap can be attributed to the need for preventive (or contraceptive) care. Now, couple this point with the fact that women had to devote a greater share of their earnings, which remain less than men’s incomes on average, and one can see how striking a contraceptive mandate for 52 percent of the workforce could exacerbate gender-based economic inequality. Eliminating employer-based insurance could address systemic inequalities in health care.


The burning question that a struggle for non-employer-based insurance would have to address is who should pay. This question is where the movement would have to articulate and stand by the value that health care is an essential and public good. SCOTUS’s decision reveals the need for an actual social contract. Large corporations would have to pay their fair share. Tax the global earnings of multinational corporations, such as Apple and Pfizer, that often hoard money abroad. There is no reason why we should bear a greater tax burden if businesses are not willing to invest fully in women’s health. If universal health care could improve the life chances of every person living and working in the United States, then we should all pay. Let’s invest in ourselves. We would only be taking Judge Alito’s advice to “let the government pay”—we would just apply that principle more broadly.[5]


[1] The Green Mountain Health Care system is based upon a plan created by a group of advocates led by Harvard scholar William Hsiao. See William C. Hsiao, Anna Gosline Knight, Steven Kappel, and Nicolae Done, “What Other States Can Learn from Vermont’s Bold Experiment:  Embracing a Single-Payer Health Care Financing System,” Health Affairs 30, No. 7 (2011):  1232-1241.

[2] Hsaio, 1233.

[3] Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 2.

[4] Ginsburg, 3.

[5] Samuel Alito, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 41; Ginsburg, 28.

About the Author


Ziya Tamesis

Reblogged this on a day with depression and commented:
I really love the underlying point made in this post: “healthcare is an essential and public good.” In the US there’s too much focus on individual economic growth; I find it kind of terrifying that healthcare is a for-profit sector people (well, the small percentage who still have extra resources) can invest in for their own private economic growth. This article is great because it reframes healthcare as something we all as citizens can invest in for the health and well-being of ourselves and each other. That’s what a single-payer system should ultimately be: not putting healthcare in the hands of a nameless, faceless “government” that is ultimately run by big business… but taking it out of the hands of big businesses (including private, for-profit insurance companies) and back into the hands of we, the people.


Reblogged this on Another Level and commented:

My Nursing Clio post on the Hobby Lobby decision and the need for single-payer health care: “It is reported that Hobby Lobby would still cover Viagra and vasectomies for men. Why should women pay for Viagra for men to experience and act on sexual desires while other policies penalize women for wanting to express their own? Male advocates for Hobby Lobby should not be so myopic about birth control. Part of functioning in a democratic society entails paying for services for others that we may not use, or even support. We pay for those services because it is just. As citizens who comprise roughly half, if not more than 50 percent of the population, the argument that women are entitled to equal and full coverage under the law makes sense in a supposedly free marketplace.”


Reblogged this on DailyHistory.org and commented:
One of the side effects of the Burwell case may be a push for single payer health insurance. Austin McCoy at Nursing Clio makes that point. Requiring companies to shoulder the cost of health insurance has always been odd and somewhat irrational feature of American healthcare. Additionally, there are number of states they may pass laws that test the Burwell decision (i.e. Refusing tax deductions for health insurance to companies if they don’t cover contraceptives, requiring contraceptive coverage at the state level, raising the cost of health insurance that don’t provide full coverage for contraceptives, etc.).


Reblogged this on Nurse's Links to Resources and commented:
I’m so aggravated and disheartened to know that once again I am a second class citizen that is property expected to stay home barefoot and pregnant. I am the eighth generation of women in my family raising children alone. My husband died from melanoma in 2010. I am a RN and the only income in my household.


The concept of universal health care is reviled by some for the same reason it is embraced by others: it would reduce the inequity built into the system.

health care

I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I found this in my search for something concerning this

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