Many businesses are trying to shed high health care premiums. Frank hopes that workers and businesses can agree on a government-administered plan paid for by workers that would reduce burdens on businesses, which would pass on savings to employees through higher wages.
“I think employer-paid health care is a mistake,” he said. “I think it depresses wages.”
Stephen J. Collins , president of the Automotive Trade Policy Council, which represents Detroit’s Big Three automakers, said business leaders would welcome such a discussion with Frank. “Our companies are very open about the fact that they are facing massive competitive challenges of a global nature that need big answers,” Collins said. “There has to be a partnership between government and industry to solve some of these problems, and health [care] is one of them.”
In many ways our broken healthcare system acts like a lead weight around the ankles of American business. While it’s easy to bitch about American carmakers investing poorly in quality engineering and forward-looking technologies, major employers like Ford, Chrysler and GM have pension and healthcare legacy costs that our Asian and European competitors do not. Among other problems (stratospheric executive pay for one) healthcare costs are driving the country’s airlines into bankruptcy and/or viciously adversarial negotiations with the employee unions. Pick any sector of American industry and the same problem appears.
Whatever the arguments for and against public healthcare there should be no question that it would literally save the life of a significant number of struggling American companies. The linked article shows that a decent proposal modeled after the more successful implementations, and not embarrassing screwups like, say, England or Hillarycare, could easily win the fierce loyalty of a broad swath of American business. Of course, lined up in opposition would be our massive insurance industry and to a lesser degree the hospital business.
The major criticisms of public healthcare never seem to hold much water. The cost argument is a joke when many countries manage to spend half or less as much as we do for roughly the same quality of care. For some metrics like infant mortality the contest isn’t even close; we spend more than twice as much and still lose by a mile. Waiting for elective surgery seems like a problem until you imagine life in America with minimal or no coverage. When your only care provider is the emergency room the idea of waiting a few months for a $25 noncritical operation can sound pretty appealing. Even Americans who think they are covered can wake up one day to a very nasty surprise. As with minimum wage increases, the nightmare scenarios rarely seem to reflect what happens in the real world. By and large business owners are smart enough to know this.
Keep an eye on Barney Frank’s initiative. If healthcare costs push the basic tension between business and the insurance industry past critical the pressure could spark a political realignment to rival the 2006 GOP beatdown. At least that’s how I see it.