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Originally published Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 3:44 PM

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Jobs first, then let's talk about health-care reform

Adding the social benefit of expanded health-care coverage is too heavy a load for the country to accept right now. Get people back to work first; discuss new social guarantees later.

SUPPORTERS of the health-care-reform bills seem to believe they would raise the scope and standards of coverage and lower costs at the same time. If only it were so. But in this case, as in most others, doing more costs more — a lot more.

Much of American politics is driven by imperatives expressed as, "Every American should have "X." The "X" changes: It can be health care or something else. Often this page has agreed, and no doubt will again. But right now we fill in the blank this way:

Every American should have the best possible opportunity to find work.

Given the shrinkage of the economy since 2007, this is not the time to promise every American a new benefit. And that is what these bills want to do. By their attempt at generosity, they would raise the cost of creating a job, especially by small employers.

Some small employers now offer employees no coverage. Under the Senate bill, if employers had one employee receiving a federal subsidy to buy insurance — and the bill creates these subsidies — the employer would have to pay a 2- to 8-percent tax on the entire payroll. And a payroll tax is a tax on the creation of jobs.

Also, the Senate bill would create a minimum benefit package in the individual and small-group markets. Because this package would be richer than many now offered, Premera Blue Cross estimates that it would add 21 percent to costs in the small-group market. With other new mandates in the bills, plus the cost of inflation that's already happening, Premera estimates that the average cost of family coverage for a small-business employee will rise from $1,000 a month currently to $2,600 just four years from now.

That is too heavy a load to accept right now.

This is not an argument for being mean. It is an argument for getting people back to work, and earning cash to support their families. Do that first, and have the discussion about new social guarantees later.

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