Dear President Obama,
Can you believe the nerve of employers? Many of them still seem to think that they should be allowed to determine the benefits they offer. I guess they haven't read your 2,000-page health law. It's the government's job now.
That's a good thing, too. Employers for too long have been able to restrict our access to essential health services like contraception by making us pay some of the bill. Really, it's amazing that we aren't all dead. Now, thanks to you, we'll enjoy free and universal access to preventative care just like workers do in Cuba. Even so, there are still many essential benefits that the government must mandate to make the U.S. the freest country in the world.
• 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.
Republicans might argue that requiring Mormon charities to serve coffee is a violation of "religious liberty" since the Mormon church's doctrine proscribes coffee, but this argument is a red herring. Leading medical experts recommend drinking coffee. Moreover, 99% of adults have drunk coffee at one point in their lives (including most Mormons).
• Salad bar. Studies also show that eating a lot of salad helps people maintain a healthy weight, which is key to preventing diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Admittedly, mandating that employers include a free salad bar in their cafeterias would primarily benefit healthy eaters (women like myself) and raise prices for workers who subsist on junk (most men). However, such a mandate is necessary to expand our access to healthy food. Nanny-state conservatives who oppose this mandate merely want to ban salad and control what we eat.
Republicans may complain that these suggested mandates represent an unconstitutional expansion of federal government power. However, I'm sure Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and your political adviser David Axelrod could produce a legal memorandum explaining why they are necessary and proper to promote our general welfare (and of course, your re-election).
Besides, if you can justify a mandate on individuals to buy health insurance, this should be a piece of cake.