True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry, who are homeless, who cannot find employment regardless of any education or vocational skill, and who cannot reasonably acquire such necessary education and vocation are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
Many conservatives fear government power and control, and they are right to do so: the power of a government to deny a person these vital rights to life, to liberty, and to their individual freedom and independence is a terrible and terrifying thing. It is the business of government not to decide who is not deserving of support, but rather to provide support to all who are in need of it.
My vision for America brings together a few simple programs—a universal dividend, universal healthcare, universal vocational education, criminal justice reform, and election reform—to make America not just a global economic leader, but an exemplary nation in social and economic equity. Together, these reforms end homelessness and hunger, ensure access to healthcare and education, sharply reduce crime, and allow Americans to once again put faith in the integrity of their system of government.
Many of these new programs stem from a new bill of rights, many of which I am not the first to put forth. I have extended these to include labor protections, more-complete rumination on some economic considerations, and considerations both for modern life and for those then-present rights which had been forgotten by prior great thinkers.
A Fair Share of our Economic Prosperity
In recent years, a great deal of attention has gone to the unevenness in the distribution of wealth in America. These conversations have spawned some high-quality video infographics, which are unfortunately often spoiled by a tone of menace; a leading conversation begging many questions; and a constant unannounced shift of topic by substituting for wealth either income or net worth, and by substituting for the poor and wealthy either a single individual or the total of all such individuals combined. In such discussions, any statement may use the same single ideal—the wealthy or the poor—to describe one of four things on each side of the equation.
I am of the mind that the people require equity: that the economic opportunity must exist for all. I have seen coworkers win lottery pools, and subsequently run through several million dollars in less than one year—and come begging for their jobs back. It thus occurs to me that a person's life and livelihood depends critically on their income, and that an inadequate income will rob from the hardest-working American that dearly-desired opportunity to advance, to grow, to find stability and financial security.
As a progressive Democrat, I often find others of like mind; and yet, every now and then, one of my progressive colleagues will ask why, or will simply abandon the poor and center the conversation squarely on the need for the wealthy to be brought down so as to create equality. Such attention to those of great wealth seems unwarranted when we simply look at the income controlled by the nation's poorest and wealthiest:
The bottom 5%, 10%, and minimum wage income earners not only receive precious little by which to support themselves, but for all their struggle against unemployment and menial jobs receive only a pittance of that which our great nation produces in proportion. The median household in 2016 took home a full 78% of the income earned per adult—working or not—in our nation, according to the Census Bureau and the World Bank; while a top 0.1% earner received a full nineteen times that income, at least.
Suppose we were to grant each American, as a non-taxable benefit, one eighth of that income earned per adult—the Gross National Income (or GNI) per capita—and prohibit minimum wage from standing below less than one quarter of the same sum. In 2016, that would be $7,338 to every American adult, plus $14,676 of wages to each full-time workers.
We would achieve this via a FICA tax of 12.5% on all personal and corporate income, excluding tax-deferred accounts such as 401(k) and IRA retirement funds. In practice, each American in 2016 might receive only $7,000, plus wage.
Even so, the poorest household would appear as shown here, in blue, with nearly twice the income as the poorest 5%. The minimum wage worker comes up even further; and a household with two adults—any struggling couple—would, with this wage, obtain fully half of the median.
The impact on incomes—especially among the poorest and on two-adult families (shown in the lighter-shaded blue and green)—speaks for itself:
This support for the poor and middle-class alike acts as a job-creating stimulus, enabling these workers to support themselves. Even so, many will fall below the means of a good, dignified, and healthy living. Therefor, in addition to this benefit—this Dividend from our economy—we must also supply a powerful social safety net of welfare for the needy, and notably ensure healthcare for all Americans.
With such a benefit paying out to every American having attained the age of eighteen, we reduce the reliance on welfare: no bureaucrat shall deny any of their rightful share in our nation's wealth.
While a family must still apply for food assistance, they will always receive the Dividend, as sure as they will receive Social Security's retirement benefits in their old age.
While a worker may not qualify for Unemployment benefits, one cannot be denied their rightful Dividend, regardless of employment situation, income, or savings.
No American will find themselves on a Dividend waiting list for seven or fifteen years, as is the case with a full three quarters of qualified housing assistance claims today—a situation which the Dividend itself will remedy by way of making a great many Americans less-poor, and thus reducing the number in need of such assistance.
It's time we put an end to homelessness and hunger. It's time we ensure our economy can provide and sustain the jobs Americans need where they are needed.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) must provide a health insurance plan covering the employee only, paying 60% of the out-of-pocket costs for a representative population, available to 90% of their full-time employees at an out-of-pocket premium of less than 9.56% of those employees's household income. The Kaiser Family Foundation provides a simplified diagram to help employers understand these requirements.
That 60% figure represents an ACA Bronze level plan—one of the ACA insurance tiers MNJ Insurance Solutions helpfully explains with the aid of the below diagram:
Anyone who has struggled with healthcare access under the ACA already knows this has several problems. A person, rich or poor, will incur similar medical issues—and a poor person will more often develop even greater difficulties with their health due to lifestyle factors the wealthy can afford to avoid. The Bronze plan pays the same proportion of these costs, even though the poorer have less ability to pay the remainder.
Further, more than half of all employers are not ALEs, and so are not required to provide even this basic assurance of care to their employees. The small business health care tax credit gives a tax refund of up to 50% of the employer's out-of-pocket costs, rather than requiring employers to provide healthcare. The unemployed and underemployed—part-time workers—also have no guarantee of healthcare.
Clearly, we must remedy this situation.
Healthcare You Can Afford
Healthcare is not affordable unless those in need of healthcare can afford it. It does no good to grant the poorest Americans healthcare which the average American can afford; rather we must grant them healthcare which they can afford.
Therefor, we must first establish a standard of care—a legal definition of what counts as affordable access to healthcare. The wealthy can pay a great deal out of their own pockets and still afford access to such healthcare, while the poor can only pay a very little if any at all. Our standard of care must specify the costs which a person may face given their income level.
As I see it, the scale should begin with a high deductible healthcare plan (HDHP)—a sort of near-zero coverage plan with a simple annual maximum out-of-pocket cost—and move down through the ACA Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum tiers to finally rest on Medicaid with zero out-of-pocket cost. We can compute the plan by formula along this sliding scale, and mark where each plan adequately covers all below a given income.
With this definition, we can require an employer to provide an appropriate level of insurance to the particular employee; and we can require the premium to not exceed that 9.56% figure. The employer may compensate by charging a higher base premium to higher-paid employees.
Healthcare for All
A great deal of Americans still go without healthcare, and even these modifications above will not cover all Americans. We must expand the small business healthcare tax credit and the employer responsibility mandate, and further provide a Federal public option insurance fund to cover all who still find themselves without adequate care.
The small business healthcare tax credit provides up to a 50% subsidy for those employers who are not ALEs, and tapers down after average wages grow too large or the number of full-time employees increases too greatly. The wage limit is of especially-great concern: small businesses investing at the forefront of technology will hire highly-paid engineers, and are disproportionately disadvantaged by wage limits of a mere $50,000 when an entry-level position staffs at $70,000.
I propose, therefor, increasing the wage limit by 100% and the maximum before phase-out by 50%, and the number of full-time employees to 49 with phase-out beginning at 25. We should also allow payroll to retain these costs from employee withholding, rather than receive them as refund at the end of the year. Finally, rather than allowing this for two years, this should be a standing credit.
To further alleviate the burden, we can begin the phase-out at 40 employees for those employees represented by a Union and any managers whose employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Workers unions often provide healthcare with a larger group across multiple employers, and so can negotiate lower rates.
We must also address the family glitch by requiring employers to provide all plans to the employee at the same proportional premium as the employee-only plan. If the employee pays 20% of the employee-only plan's premium, then the employer must also offer the spouse and family plans at the same coverage level at 20% of the total premium.
With all of this, we can mandate that these businesses provide healthcare without crushing them under the burden of cost. At the same time, these small businesses face a significant portion of the cost and are motivated to find the lowest-priced health insurance, within the restrictions of our above regulations. This ensures pressure for price competition throughout the market.
A Public Option
Along with the expanded Affordable Care Act and greater private coverage of Americans under their employers's benefits programs, the Federal government must provide a public option insurance fund for all Americans who cannot access affordable care. We can easily fund this public option with a 1.65% FICA tax on all personal income—not payroll and not capped—which, along with the Dividend, still results in a net-decrease in tax burden on most Americans.
The public option will follow the same rules as for employers: level of coverage adjusted to income, such that all Americans can afford the care they receive. Further, we must provide a soft mechanism to enable access to care wherever care is needed: when the public option rejects a claim, the provider may resubmit with a hardship notation to force processing as Medicaid.
The hardship claim takes immediate action and corrects later, with no penalty except in a no-hardship case. If the claim is covered at any level of public option care, then it is covered—typically with no out-of-pocket cost, as per Medicaid. A follow-up at a later date will establish the reason for the claim, any hardship allowance, and any owed costs—whether that be a deductible, a forwarding of the claim to the insurer who should have handled it, or payment out of pocket. This follow-up may notate changes in employment, financial hardship impacting ability to pay, loss of insurance, or even just losing your insurance card.
The Family Coverage Act would provide a subsidy to dependents of families whose working members receive affordable care, but who cannot afford healthcare insurance for dependents. With the public option, we would instead simply provide public option care.
The public option charges no premium until affordable care is nearly-available, and then phases a premium in. The rules are complex so as to hold employers and consumers accountable while also making care affordable. (These rules need work.)
An unemployed or self-employed household receives care with no premium. A large-asset household—one with, for example, twenty times the GNI-per-capita in liquid financial assets—receives a level of coverage based on those assets; otherwise, income determines coverage. High-income, self-employed households may only receive a HDHP and thus pay their first $15,000 of costs each year out of pocket, then receive no-cost full coverage; low-income households may receive zero-cost Medicaid.
When an employer does not supply healthcare, the employer pays the affordable rate as a payroll tax. For many employers, it's less-expensive to provide care and pay 50% of the premium, as most wages will be greater than five times the plan cost. Eligible small businesses would need to pay sub-minimum-wage to make the costs balance out, and so would likely provide care.
When an employer provides care which is not affordable, the employee pays the smaller of the affordable rate or 50% of the employer's own total premium for the affordable plan; the employer pays the greater of these two.
When an employee does not purchase affordable care from the employer, the employer automatically pays their usual costs, and the employee pays the costs they would normally pay for the employer's plan. Neither the employee nor the employer gets a discount by choosing the public option.
To determine the phase-in period, we first identify the lowest-priced, income-appropriate private plan available to the household. We then double that price and subtract the result from the income at which the plan would be affordable. Phase-in adds $1 of premium for every $2 of income above this level.
If the household has a full-time employed member and no employer provides care covering every dependent member of the household, all full-time employers share the full affordable care cost equally on their payroll taxes. A single full-time worker with an employer providing no care, thus, would incur a 9.56% payroll tax. In this case, the household does not pay for the public option premium. (Possibly don't want to special-case providing no care?)
Lowering the maximum premium requires tightening the employer healthcare cost limits, so as to avoid employers and insurers raising those premiums to offload the costs onto the Federal government and the taxpayer. This is part of the reasoning behind requiring equal proportion of employer responsibility for the family and individual plans.