Preemption and Health Insurance Benefits

Maryland has given up the fight over its Wal-Mart bill, which essentially targeted Wal-Mart and tried to force it to increase the health care benefits provided to its employees; as many of you will recall, the Fourth Circuit and the district court both found the act to be preempted by ERISA. Most commentators, including this one, agree that it is preempted, under current law. Maryland officials will not try to take the issue to the Supreme Court, feeling that they are unlikely to be successful.  I suggested as much a while back, in this post.

An interesting counterpoint, for those of you with access to the National Law Journal and/or its subscription only website, is an opinion piece by law school professor Ed Zelinsky, whose work I have commented on in the past here in this blog, that Congress should address the problems of availability and affordability of health insurance by revoking federal preemption of the issue and allowing states to pass their own initiatives to try to solve the problem. I guess I have a few thoughts and concerns on that issue, the first of which is that, for every example, such as Massachusetts’ effort to provide universal health insurance for the currently uninsured, of a broad based effort to address a fundamental problem, there is a countervailing example, such as the Maryland act, of a statute that is narrowly crafted at only one small piece of the problem, often one, such as Wal-Mart, that can be easily vilified. In addition, state by state regulation in other areas is certainly not devoid of a “race to the bottom” mentality, where states seek competitive advantage over others in attracting employers by imposing lesser burdens on companies than do other states. I would hate to see that happen in health care and health insurance, which is an area already bedeviled by enough problems; a universal, national health care solution, rather than the removal of preemption with a resulting state by state system, avoids this problem.