I tried to listen in on the webcast of the press conference unveiling the new labor-business health care coalition but it was impossible. So, here's what I know from written materials: The founding members of the "Better Health Care Together" campaign include AT&T, the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy, the Center for American Progress, the Committee for Economic Development, the Communications Workers of America, Intel, Kelly Services, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Wal-Mart.
These founding members have committed to recruiting additional players who would gather at a summit in May. Personally, I am solidly in the camp that believes that single-payer in the only rationale way to change the health care system in America. But, I think it's useful that business and labor are at the table. With caveats to follow.
First, in the official release that I just got here's some overview:
The principles document that each founding member signed begins:
America’s health care system is broken. The traditional employer-based model of coverage in its current form is endangered without substantial reform to our health care system. It is being crushed by out of control costs, the pressures of the global economy, and the large and growing number of uninsured. Soaring health costs threaten workers’ livelihoods and companies’ competitiveness, and undermine the security that individuals of a prosperous nation should enjoy. We can only solve these problems – and deliver health care that is high quality, affordable, accessible and secure – if business, government, labor, the health care delivery system and the nonprofit sector work together.
Specifically, the four principles are:
1. We believe every person in America must have quality, affordable health insurance coverage;
2. We believe individuals have a responsibility to maintain and protect their health;
3. We believe that America must dramatically improve the value it receives for every health care dollar; and,
4. We believe that businesses, governments, and individuals all should contribute to managing and financing a new American health care system.
There are not details here beyond broad statements. I am a little concerned about a few things. I am curious what others think. Number one: the statements from the business leaders don't reflect very much of a new approach, as far as I can tell. Example: "The U.S. healthcare system delivers results below international norms at high cost, and consumers and industry suffer the consequences," said Craig Barrett, Intel Chairman. "The simple principles and the diverse champions announced today will create a framework to develop workable approaches to the problems. In particular the ideas on consumer empowerment to drive system efficiency are completely in line with the Dossia personal health record effort that many of today’s participants have helped kickoff."
In other words, Barrett is pushing the "consumer empowerment" rhetoric that is just a fancy way of saying "we want to wash our hands of the problem and it's up to the consumer to sink or swim in the swamp."
Number two: the two labor leaders involved, Andy Stern and Larry Cohen, are two of the best, deepest thinkers in labor. Here is what they have to say:
"What unites us here today is our belief that it will be a far greater America when we finally get health care for every man, woman and child," said Andy Stern, President of SEIU. "We can’t keep tinkering, hoping that incremental change will fix our broken health care system. We need fundamental change, and it is going to take new thinking, leadership, new partnerships, some risk taking, and compromising to make it happen. But that is what we all owe our country."
CWA President Larry Cohen said, "Our current system puts a huge strain on employers that provide quality benefits for employees – both current and retired – and their families. It forces many U.S. businesses to compete not on the quality of their products, services and performance, but instead on the cost of health care benefits. It is long past time to move health care – a public good – from the corporate balance sheet to the public balance sheet."
I don't disagree with the general principles they articulate. But, I think we should ask how we truly bridge the gap between a group--business--that is not willing to get solidly behind a full-scale government role in providing health care for every American and the rest of us, who, based on painful experience, know that as long as the insurance and drug companies control the framework of the health care system, we are screwed (that's a technical term).
I wrote long ago that a single-payer health care system was a matter of economic survival for business. But, it's not yet clear that the business world is ready to give up on the rhetoric of the "free market" as the solution to every social ill.
What do you think?