The generalized argument against some sort of Medicare for All (M4A) is that Americans really like the employer based health insurance (EBHI). That approximately 150 million workers are enrolled in EBHI is no small matter, however, the proposition is that these 150 million really like to obtain healthcare insurance in that manner.

The PPACA (aka ACA or Obamacare) included a provision known as the employer mandate that required employers to provide healthcare insurance and subsidize the premiums. According to Kaiser Family Foundation in 2018:

Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $19,616 this year, up 5% from last year, with workers on average paying $5,547 toward the cost of their coverage.

Said another way, employers (on average) absorbed 72% of the cost of family HC premiums.

Obviously that is something for the worker to "like" and would not be pleased to see eliminated by ending or curtailing EBHI.

So the question I pose is: Is there something beyond the employer subsidy that the 150 million American workers really like about their health insurance?

  • 9
    You might be misunderstanding the problem a bit. Many of the people who don't like Medicare for all also dislike employer based insurance, especially the mandate in the ACA. For example here the libertarian CATO institute's first suggestion is to break the employer-employee insurance relationship. "Nothing would do more to fix our health-care system than moving away from a system dominated by employer-provided health insurance and instead making health insurance personal and portable, controlled by the individual..."
    – lazarusL
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 15:00
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    @Justas - Like democracy?
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 16:54
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    YMMV, however as someone who has transitioned between EBHI and Medicare, my experience is that Medicare has by far been less problematic than the EBHI program I was in a Fortune 1000, administered by BCBS and later by Aetna. If given a choice between the two (at equal premium cost), I would have choosen Medicare over EBHI. But I could not have comfortably made that decision until after I had experienced Medicare. My senior friends tell me the same thing, but obviously I can't survey 44 million beneficiaries.
    – BobE
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 1:19
  • 7
    @jamesqf This seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of insurance rather than a reason. "Paying for other people's medical care" is literally what insurance is. The money you give the insurance company is used to pay out other people's expenses that they are also covering. Then when you have a major medical issue, other people's money is used to pay for you. Or.. sometimes their lawyers just find some way to get out of paying for your condition because they are a private company with a profit motivation.
    – Tal
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 14:46
  • 5
    @Tal: It's not a misunderstanding (on my part, at least), so much as it is the amount of time I'd need to write a full explanation that would fit in a comment. With insurance, the people covered are paying (either personally or through their employers) for their coverage. With Medicare-for-all & similar plans, there's a fairly large population of non-payers who'd be covered by taxes on the payers.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 17:30

5 Answers 5


The way health insurance is payed for by employers creates a massive tax loophole, the employee does not pay tax on the employer portion of their insurance, and the employer can deduct it as an expense rather than pay payroll taxes on it. Switching to Medicare for all is an effective pay cut for anyone with employer provided insurance, because there would have to be additional taxes for Medicare, and their overall pay wouldn't see an equivalent increase to what an employer was previously paying (if any of that money goes to them as a raise at all).

Medicare currently reimburses at a lower rate than private insurance to the point where it's nearly a net loss or actually is a loss for the hospital or private practice. In a medicare for all scheme it's likely that many places may even refuse to take patients without additional coverage outside of emergency service where they are required to serve everyone. This would mean many people may lose access to their preferred providers.

Some employers offer several choices for health insurance, so its possible to pick from several policies which one currently meets your needs, or manages an appropriate amount of risk for your preferences. Medicare is more restrictive in this sense, there are different plans, but they all have to comply with medicare standards.

Medicare for all would be a nearly unprecedented expansion in government control. Many people are against expansion of government to begin with. This would also require or effectively give the government a national registry with very detailed information for every citizen. Building anything resembling such a registry has historically been met with a lot of resistance.

  • 5
    Reminder: the question is: What do workers like about their EBHI, your answer addresses objections to M4A. Granted, your answer might be suitable to a : 'Why do workers prefer EBHI over all other options' , but what Q is the: ' why do they like EBHI' .
    – BobE
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 14:52
  • 3
    I'd like to challenge your assertion that medicare reimburses at a lower rate sufficient to cause doctors or hospitals to refuse patients - but as that is NOT the focus of the question, it's inappropriate to deflect into that tangent.
    – BobE
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 15:01
  • 1
    I'd also challenge that it's a "massive tax loophole". It's deliberately an untaxed benefit.
    – Caleth
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 10:05

Americans with health insurance are not so much in love with their coverage, as relieved that they have coverage at all. Inequality is so internalized that the public expects some sectors to have much better outcomes than others. Those with job-linked health insurance relish their superiority over the more disadvantaged people without. The very fact that employer-based health care is exclusive creates a preference for it.

  • 6
    Do you have any sources to back up this, especially claims like "inequality is so internalized"? Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 19:25

In general, the problem is that most employees are accustomed to how their employer-based insurance works and want it to keep working exactly that way. Because they know how to navigate that particular set of challenges.

Employers may also customize their insurance and offer benefits that might not be available in a one-size-fits-all government insurance. In particular, some large employers allow their employees a choice of different forms of insurance. For example, my employer in 2005 offered options with

  • No premium from me; a health savings account.
  • $50 monthly from me; a Health Maintenance Organization.
  • $50 monthly from me; a Preferred Provider Organization.

There were other differences as well, the copays were different, the provider (doctors) lists were different, and the deductibles were different. The HMO was more aggressive about insisting on its own doctors than the PPO. Note that I was paying much less than 28% of the premiums. So averages may be hiding individual differences.

There may have also been differences in coverage. Perhaps one plan covered insulin shots better than another did. I wouldn't know, as I'm not diabetic. Which is another problem. We don't know what challenges individuals are having with their health plans. People may have moved around several times until they found jobs with just the right set of coverage for their situations. They may know that getting insulin, methadone, whatever coverage is difficult. But they have it in their current insurance. Any change and they may not.

I think that we can safely set aside the arguments of something like the Cato Institute in considering what the typical American thinks. The Cato Institute does indeed recommend breaking the employer/healthcare relationship. But they don't make any pretense of that being a popular position.

Most Americans who currently have employer-based health insurance are happy with that insurance. As such, they don't want to give it up for some new form of insurance.

One of the great ironies of the healthcare debate is that most people are happy with their personal options. When you hear people worrying about health insurance, it is either a small minority with problems, or a larger group worrying about the problems of the small minority. Of course, part of this is the nature of insurance. Most people pay premiums and get little benefit.

Here is a Politifact analysis of people's satisfaction with their healthcare. While they found that the 95% approval was at the high end, the surveys were consistently finding 80% satisfaction with at least 42% very satisfied. This should put aside the possibility that people were picking employer-based health insurance as the least bad option. Newer polls show a drop in healthcare satisfaction since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA; colloquially known as Obamacare).

One might argue that Medicare-for-all could duplicate these options. It could certainly put 72% of the premium (tax) costs on employers. It could allow participants to choose among multiple plans. But of course if it did that, it would lose the purported benefits of Medicare-for-all. In particular, Bernie Sanders is going around telling people that Medicare-for-all will eliminate billing. That of course is an exaggeration. But what it does do is eliminate the question of who should be billed. Unless of course you put that back into it by allowing for different programs that can be billed differently.

The Kamala Harris plan tries to have it both ways. It will still allow private insurance, so it won't get the billing benefits that Sanders promises. But it will bind those plans with new regulations, so it will still cause people happy with their current health insurance to lose their current insurance, just as PPACA/Obamacare did. It has most of the downsides of both the status quo and Sanders' proposed change.

  • 2
    Focused just on the Q, it appears that that your (short) answer can be summed: They fear change. (Perhaps colloquially one might say "Keep your hands off my EBHI" just as Medicare beneficiaries say "keep your hands off my Medicare".) Respectfully, the pros and cons of proposed M4A variants are beyond the scope of the questionj.
    – BobE
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 17:02
  • The first paragraph conflicts with the rest of the answer. It leaves the impression that @BobE got; that people simply fear change. But everything else indicates that people value choice (which IMO is the correct reason). You should probably remove it (or cleanly separate it since some people really do simply fear the change).
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 22:09

For many employees, they prefer the option afforded by an Employer-supported healthcare system.

Most employers in the US allow their employees to pick and choose from different insurance companies when signing up for employer-based health insurance. They still cover part of the cost, but allow the employee to pick a company that offers the type of coverage they want - which can range from basic to fairly comprehensive.

Insurance companies are able to do this because they can reach a wide range of customers by cooperating with multiple employers, and in turn (in theory) this reduces the cost for the employee overall.

Public health care undercuts this option by creating a limited, low-cost provider that most health insurance companies cannot compete with price-wise. This creates a large gap between the bottom-cost provider and the next available provider.

In short, when the majority of health insurance customers sign on to a low-cost provider that isn't in a network of Employer-supported insurance companies, it pushes the cost up for those companies in order to compete, which pushes the cost up for the employee as well.

  • 1
    Do you have any stats on how many employers actually offer their employees a choice of different insurance companies, not just a selection of plans from within one company? I’ve had some quite good insurance offered through different employers, but I’ve never been offered a choice of companies – I wonder whose experiences are unusual
    – divibisan
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 22:43
  • @divibisan It might be mine, since I haven't had many employers.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 4:18

Effectively, for the same reason that they like to be able to negotiate their wages. Many people don't want to negotiate their wages and would prefer that they would increase due to an increase in the minimal wage. So this is not universal. But private employer-provided insurances used to be better than government-provided insurance.

It costs Medicaid substantially less than private insurance to cover people of similar health status … due primarily to Medicaid’s lower payment rates to providers and lower administrative costs. In other words, it only allows access to the medical providers willing to accept the lowest compensation. It's not too much of a stretch of imagination to presume that these are the least desirable medical providers.

This is likely to change with time, by the way.

The ability to sue insurance companies for "bad faith" is diminished because of "ERISA preemption". Which effectively disallows "bad faith" Federal lawsuits of insurers who provide employer insurance. That is, because of Aetna Health v Davila (2004), the only relief which can be sued for, by a patient, is the payment for treatment. Patients, whose plans are employer-provided, can no longer sue for pain and suffering due to delayed or denied treatments, nor can they sue for punitive damages.

The importance of ERISA preemption has grown significantly in the last 10 years.

First, it has grown because of the employee mandate in ACA, which effectively required most employers to provide health insurance (forcing most individuals into insurance plans to which ERISA preemption applies).

And second, the significance of the ERISA preemption has grown because, at least in 11th Circuit, any state claims against insurers, which would be ERISA claims if they were made in a Federal court, automatically become claims in a Federal court. If this decision is adopted nationally, state laws allowing lawsuits against insurers for "bad faith" in employer-provided insurance would become moot. Which would give insurers near immunity for most health insurance plans they provide.

So what would that mean for patients? There would be little incentive for insurance companies to not delay care or to pay for extra medical tests. Tests can only discover conditions which may require costly treatments. Not doing tests can lead to severe health consequences, or even death. Both of those would lead to loss of employment (which usually, but not always, leads to loss of insurance).

So under this regime, the insurance companies have financial incentive to deny treatment and no real financial consequences for it. In the long run, it is almost certain that there will be a mind-set disconnect between the lack of liability and the sub-par care. The employer-provided insurance is only likely to be seen as inherently worse as it gets worse.

  • 3
    Lots of unsubstantiated suggestions here. Perhaps you could be a bit more specific about 'lowest wages to Drs so only allowing access to least desirable providers' . what time frame are you talking about and do you have a source
    – BobE
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 2:01
  • @BobE I added a link supporting the claim and reworded it to be more specific to Medicaid rather than "government-provided" insurance. "Government-provided" insurance would be both Medicaid and Medicare.
    – grovkin
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 5:25
  • Haven't read in detail yet but what I'll be looking for is substantiation that "it only allowed access to the least desirable medical providers." As I have family members that provide care for persons who are covered by Medicaid, I find that to be personally insulting.
    – BobE
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 5:37
  • @BobE this wasn't meant as an insult. This is a statement about averages. Obviously every rule has exceptions. But I don't think the claim, that providers willing to accept lowest wages in a certain market are least desirable, is something that needs justification. It's supply and demand. Although again, personal circumstances may vary and supply and demand can only analyze a larger picture when used against individualized service providers.
    – grovkin
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 6:12
  • 1
    Read your citation, it does not support your contention of access to least desirable providers. Please provide substantiation that "average" medicaid provider are the least desirable of medical providers.
    – BobE
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 17:44

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