We would be up in arms if an employer issued a memo stating that its employees could use the money paid to them each pay period to purchase organic vegetables and free-range meat, but could not use it to purchase frozen pizzas or yogurt with chocolate chips on top.
Employees accept a job in exchange for a benefit package that includes a salary. Sometimes, the deal they strike in exchange for their labor includes non-cash benefits like vacation days, sick days, retirement accounts with employer contributions, or health benefits.
Each of those non-cash benefits are part of the compensation package for which the employer and employee have negotiated. The employee has agreed to show up each day to carry out the duties associated with the job in exchange for those benefits.
That’s why it is ridiculous for employers like Houston Baptist University to claim that their rights as an employer are being violated by the provision in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, that requires preventive care including FDA-approved contraceptive methods to be provided with no co-pay. And yet, HBU, along with other religiously-inclined employers around the country, has filed suit against the federal government claiming just that.
HBU does not get to control what its employees use their salary dollars for—employees can buy a house or rent an apartment, they can shop at Target or Nordstrom, they can pay for private school tuition or send kids to the neighborhood public school and put the money they would have spent on tuition into a vacation savings account. And they can choose to get a prescription for birth control from the doctor, and use the birth control to plan whether and when to become a parent.
HBU does not get to control how employees use their health benefits. Those benefits belong to the employee, not the employer, and how the employee uses them has no bearing on the employer.
If employers are truly unhappy with the fact that they have to provide health insurance at all to their employees, they have options. They can advocate for a system in which all Americans get health insurance through a single, non-employment related entity, like the federal government, in a single payer system like most other civilized nations have. But they can’t renegotiate the terms of employment after the deal has been struck and try to tell employees that how they use their compensation.