U.S. health system discourages innovation
May 25, 2009
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Countless workers in the United States are trapped in jobs they would like to leave because they cannot get health insurance elsewhere, calcifying innovation and mobility in the world's largest economy.
Daunted by health-care costs, a would-be technology entrepreneur in Texas decides not to start her own business. A communications expert in Washington decides not to strike out on his own. And a freelance magazine editor in Brooklyn decides to take a less satisfying corporate job...
Economists call this phenomenon "job lock," and studies suggest that it keeps between 20 percent and 50 percent of workers from leaving their current jobs.
Because health insurance is tied to employment in the United States, workers who leave their jobs can see health bills skyrocket if they strike out on their own or take a position with a company that offers fewer benefits. Workers who would like to retire early stay on, unable to qualify for the government's Medicare program until they turn 65.
And those who have existing health problems may not be able to get coverage at all.
Job lock is difficult to measure because many employees don't like to advertise their unhappiness. But economists and small-business advocates say it takes an enormous toll on productivity.
"We can definitely say that it's slowing down the rate of innovation," said Tim Kane, an economist with the Kauffman Foundation which promoted entrepreneurship...