Both parties promise to preserve one of the health care system's central problems.
The artificial dominance of job-based plans, along with misguided restrictions on where insurers can sell policies and what types of coverage they can offer, has stunted the development of alternatives. Even so, the large price difference between the job-based and individual insurance markets (some of which may be due to differences in the age and health of policy holders) suggests the savings that are possible when people decide how to spend their own money: In 2007 the average annual premium for nongroup health insurance was about $2,600 for single-person coverage and $5,800 for family coverage, compared to $4,500 and $12,100, respectively, for job-based plans.
In addition to enhancing competition and controlling costs, cutting the link between employment and health insurance would relieve the insecurity that many Americans feel about going without coverage when they lose or leave their jobs. Obama is right that it would be "a radical shift"—radical in the sense that it goes to the root of the current health care mess.