They walk among us; they have for decades. There are millions of them. Some are tall, others short. There are those that are thin and those that are stout. Amid the crowd are the well off, the middle class, and the poor. Most are gainfully employed; a few are temporarily out of work. Several are young, a smaller number are younger. Countless are middle-aged. They are our friends, our family, and our neighbors and at times, they may be us. Who are they? They are the uninsured. At any given moment, millions of American citizens have no health insurance.
We watch the numbers grow daily, yearly, and while people speak of doing something to stop the swelling, nothing gets done. For years, there were those that wanted to talk of the burgeoning problem. There were those that were empathetic to the plight of the uninsured.
Decades ago Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy began speaking of his concern; then, in 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton came on board. Each proposed universal health care. However, for many Americans, capitalism is ideal and universal health insurance smacks of socialism.
Financial facts were ignored. In Europe, medicine is state sponsored; all citizens receive medical services. In the United States, less than a quarter of the population receives publicly funded medical benefits. Yet, Europeans spend less to serve their entire population than Americans do to serve a few. Nonetheless, logic belies. Americans refuse to acknowledge that we as a nation are spending more and receiving less. At least they did not; however, that was then.
Now, health care costs are escalating; they are affecting businesses and industry, deeply. Profits are being lost and business executives are reluctantly admitting that they no longer compete in the world-market or even within the United States. Company chairs blame high health care cost and the expense of providing health insurance.
With these admissions, it seems the tide is turning, though ever so slowly. On December 10, 2004, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association sponsored a symposium. A dozen or more business executives met to discuss health care reform. Larry Johnston, Chief Executive of the supermarket chain Albertsons was among these. In speaking of the nation’s health care crisis, Johnston said, “It’s frightening what this could do to our country,” Johnston portends that “spiraling health care costs, if unchecked, would bankrupt the nation.”
Currently, health care costs are equal to almost 15% of our Gross Domestic Product. With the advent of the Medicare prescription drug program, increases will be greater. By 2012, health care is expected to take up nearly 20 percent of the GDP, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In the last five years, inflation has increased by 2.5 percent; yet, health costs are 11.5 percent higher. The discrepancy is noteworthy.
In this meeting, executive participants acknowledged that in an entrepreneurial society such as ours “businesses are forced to shoulder most of the load.”
Entrepreneurs attending this December conference mutually concede; health insurance costs are central to the problem of health care in America. William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University and a trained physician, declared, “It’s ridiculous! We’re saddling corporations with the burden of health care. People are not connecting bankruptcy of corporations to health care costs.” Yet, the link is clear.
The link between health care costs and corporate failures is certain. We hear and read of the struggles daily. Industries such as steel and airlines are barely surviving. You may recall the recent debacles at Bethlehem Steel and United Airlines. Many speculate that the auto industry will be next. Ford and General Motors numbers reflect this reality. Financiers are fearful for the future of General Motors Corporation. We all remember the old adage, “As GM goes, so goes the country.” If this axiom is true, the fate of America is in doubt. Straits may be dire.
President of GM North America, Gary Cower attended this symposium. While there he shared his truth, “We spend more for health care than we do on steel. It’s probably the biggest competitive issue we face.” The company’s last annual report, told this same tale. The review stated, “This is a crisis!” The assessment noted that $5.2 billion was spent on health insurance costs. The company recognizes this has “a tremendous impact” on profitability. GM accepts that they can no longer compete in the marketplace. It seems that all American companies agree; the cost of health care in the United States hurts businesses globally.
Business leaders, corporate bigwigs, executives, and health care industry leaders submit, they must effectively communicate the seriousness of the health care crisis. They must convey their message to those in power. Fred Smith, founder and Chief Executive Officer of FedEx offered, “I personally think at the end of the day the only thing that would get this thing off center is for a very large part of Corporate America to simply say to the president and say to the majority leaders, ??If you don’t fix this, there’s not going to be a damn job in manufacturing in this country.'” The problem is ubiquitous, though health care is not.
Manufacturing is not the only group that experiences the effects of this crisis. Businesses that pay all or a portion of employee health care premiums are fraught with fear; costs are staggering. The Bureau of Labor Statistics affirms employee health benefits are now 7 percent of total wages. They expect that in 2014, benefits will comprise 25 percent of employee salaries.
Institutions are also experiencing an expenditure crisis. School districts and other educational organizations are spending billions merely to support contractual agreements. Improvements in education are impaired; monies must be spent on health insurance and medical care. Shopkeepers are struggling as well. The cost of good health care does not come cheaply for anyone.
As the committee continued to discuss, they accepted, “greater efficiency will reduce costs,” however, it would not fix the problem. “Constant supply and insatiable demand will keep pushing prices higher if the underlying dynamics are not changed.” The representatives acknowledged that workers could not and would not bare the burden. Solutions must be found elsewhere. As reported by Chief Executive Group, LP, unexpectedly, yet ultimately, theses executives concluded, “Government must help businesses make the marketplace work.”
On Saturday, May 28, 2005, the New York Times reported, “Health Leaders Seek Consensus Over the Uninsured.” Apparently, another group had been formulated and while this group may have reached consensus among itself; there is no consensus between the two committees,
This second assemblage first met in October. This group was comprised of “24 ideologically disparate leaders representing the health care industry, corporations, and unions.” Members were both conservative and liberal. Families USA represented the more liberal. The Heritage Foundation represented conservatives. Members from the United States Chamber of Commerce and American Association of Retired Persons were present. Council from the AFL-CIO was also there.
One would think that this latter group was one, of, by, and for the people, at least more so than the former. After all, there were health care workers, union members, and those of liberal leanings at this gathering. One might expect that these would remember the millions, the well off, the middle class, and the poor. They would consider the gainfully employed and the temporarily unemployed. They would recall the tall, the short, the thin, and the stout. They likely know the young, and the younger. They are familiar with the uninsured. At one time, they may have been among them. Yet, this group seems to have forgotten. Their recommendations suggest this.
As I assess the plan that this second group proposes, it seems lacking. They ask the federal government to serve as enforcer, enforcing a mandate that people must be insured. People that are barely able to afford health care and health insurance are expected to do so. Yes, this council recommends tax breaks for the poor. However, tax breaks do not pay the bills.
It seems that the committee of Chief Executives was more sensitive to the truth of the situation. These business leaders did ultimately acknowledge the power of unity. They accepted that we as a nation are stronger when all factions work together. From my reading, it seems that health care leaders ignore this possibility. They seem to seek temporary solace and not true and permanent solutions.
However, I ask you to please, assess the health care leaders plan for yourself. I ask that as you do, remember the millions that are your friends, family, and neighbors, those that do not have health insurance. Do you truly believe that these options will benefit them? I do not.
Health Care is on the minds of many, Kos, of Daily Kos writes GM loss, Wal-Mart, and universal health care