Well, why not? Sexual activity is as voluntary as drinking coffee and going to the gym, and at least the latter has potentially profound implications for long-term health. While the federal government demands that employers provide free contraception and sterilization to their employees on demand, why not mandate a bunch of goods and services that have beneficial effects? Allysia Finley offers her modest proposal in today’s Wall Street Journal in response to the immodest diktat of the Obama administration:
• Fitness club memberships. Most doctors agree that exercising is one of the best ways to prevent disease. However, gym memberships can run between $240 and $1,800 per year. Such high prices force us to choose between exercising and buying groceries. While we could walk or jog outside, many of us prefer not to. Therefore, employers should be required to pay for workers’ gym memberships. Doing so might even reduce employers’ health costs, which is why many companies already subsidize memberships. Those that don’t are limiting our freedom to exercise.
• Massages. Stress raises the risk of heart disease, obesity, depression and a host of other maladies. About one half of Americans say they’re stressed, and studies show that health costs for stressed-out workers are nearly 50% higher than those for their chilled-out counterparts. According to the Mayo Clinic, a great way to reduce stress is to get a massage. However, since few of us can afford massages, it is imperative that employers be required to cover weekly massage treatments or hire in-office masseuses. Think of the millions of new jobs this mandate will create in the therapeutic field, too.
• Yoga classes. Like exercise and massage, yoga reduces stress and can relieve back pain, osteoarthritis and even menopausal symptoms. Yoga is also one of the best exercises for pregnant women since stress raises the risk of birth defects, which in turn increase health costs. While we could practice yoga with the aid of a DVD or Web video, classes offer social benefits that enhance our psychological well-being.
• Coffee. Studies show that coffee can ward off depression, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and sleepiness—which makes it one of the most powerful preventive treatments. Workers who drink java are also more productive and pleasant. While many offices have coffee makers, some employers—most notably those affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—continue to deny workers this essential benefit. All employers should have to provide workers with freshly brewed coffee. Oh, and workers must also be able to choose the kind of coffee regardless of the price.
Finley points out that Mormons and other sects might object to the coffee mandate as their doctrine opposes the use of caffeine. But since caffeine has such positive implications for employee health, the government should step in and force Mormon organizations to provide free coffee, especially since we need alert drivers in the afternoon traffic crunch. I’m sure that we can find a study showing that 98% of all Mormons have had coffee at some point in their lives, which proves that the government’s doctrine is superior to that of the Mormon church, anyway.
Actually, many employers offer most of the above, either for free or for subsidized discounts, precisely because they think the long-term benefit pays off for them. That’s especially true of gym memberships, which get employees to exercise and lower the eventual costs associated with treatment of diabetes and obesity, but many employers provide free coffee for their staff, too. Those choices are driven by voluntary estimations of cost-benefit analysis as well as market forces in labor. Just as with contraception, no one wants to propose a law that bans employers or insurers from funding those choices, but oppose the government forcing employers and insurers to provide them for free, regardless of their supposed benefits.
As for yoga, well, we’re already there — at least with Medicare. CNN reported two weeks ago that Medicare now pays for yoga, meditation, and exercise programs in order to lower costs associated with treatments for heart disease:
Once again, I have no issue with an insurer deciding that the cost-benefit ratio makes coverage for yoga and meditation a good choice, although Medicare’s government-funded status means that choice is also a public-policy issue, too. But government has no business mandating that coverage onto employers and private insurers, just as they have no business banning them from doing so.