United Auto Workers recently started talks with the Big Three carmakers on a new contract. Carmakers are pressing the union for more concessions in health benefits. GM, Ford and Chrysler would like to get rid of $90.5 billion in unfunded liability for retiree health care.
The car companies would like the union to take over health care liabilities. Goodyear last year talked United Steelworkers into taking $1 billion to assume liability for the company’s estimated $1.2 billion in health care costs for 30,000 retirees and 12,000 active workers. Otherwise, the union risked losing all its health benefits if the company went bankrupt. In July the UAW agreed to a similar deal with Dana Corporation, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In exchange for taking on a $1 billion retiree health care liability, the UAW received $780 million in cash and stock.
A better solution would be for the carmakers and other manufacturers to get behind a national health care plan that would provide comprehensive care at lower costs than the current inefficient private-insurance model.
George W. Bush, who truly does not care about the problems of working people, has threatened to veto any expansion of health care which he sees as a step “down the path to government-run health care for every American.” He was referring to a bipartisan plan to expand health care for children.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 17-4 in July to increase tobacco taxes to help finance expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which must be reauthorized by September. House Democrats are pushing an even broader plan that calls for major changes in Medicare, including cuts in Medicare payments to insurance companies.
The House bill has drawn support from two powerful groups, AARP and the American Medical Association, in part because it would prevent cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. But it could undermine private Medicare health plans, which were authorized in 2003 as part of Bush’s corrupt attempt to to privatize Medicare. The Congressional Budget Office has found that the private plans cost 12% more than traditional Medicare.
Expansion of CHIP and trimming Medicare payments to insurance companies is a good step — and will be hard enough to get past the Bush White House. But the solution to our health care crisis is passage of HR 676, the US National Health Insurance Act sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., which would cover all medical services for every American, guarantee our choice of health providers and make insurance companies obsolete — at cost savings for businesses that now provide health coverage for their employees.
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Jim Cullen is editor of The Progressive Populist, a twice-monthly journal of politics, economics and public affairs published from the Heartland.