Most Americans strongly support laws that mandate a minimum wage. The rationale is simple: companies should have to pay their workers some bare minimum, so as to prevent slave labor. Now, that same simple rationale is growing in a different area: health care.
In cities and states across America, there is a quiet but growing understanding that this country should have minimum health care laws, just like we have minimum wage laws. In New York, the city council passed a bill that forces large employers to provide minimum health care to their employees (more on the bill here via Nathan Newman). This follows legislation that passed both houses of the Maryland legislature that did the same (though it was vetoed by the state's bought-off Governor). And in case you thought this was just a "blue" state/region phenomenon, think again: the GOP House Speaker in the ultra-red state of Idaho is considering crafting a similar law there.
The arguments against this are not surprising: Corporate America says it is "anti-business" because it forces companies to shell out more money for their employees. But as New York City Councilor Christine Quinn noted, the measures are "a pro-business response that protects both the responsible employers who currently provide health insurance as well as the taxpayers who are seeing an increasing pressure put upon the publicly financed health care system."
Think of it this way: without these mandates, companies that provide health care to their workers are at a competitive disadvantage with companies that don't. That creates a race to the bottom, allowing our economy to reward companies that shaft their workers. These mandates are pro-business because they erases that competitive disadvantage by forcing responsible business's competitors to also provide health care.
Additionally, the minimum health care bills are pro-business because they keep taxes down. The fact is, when companies like Wal-Mart don't provide workers health care, those workers go on public assistance - programs paid for by higher taxes. Thus forcing companies to provide minimum health care, prevents state and municipal governments from having to raise taxes on individuals and businesses in order to fund public assistance.
Mark my words, this fight is only starting. If disparate places like New York City, Maryland and Idaho are all independently addressing the problem, it means the issue cuts across party and geographic lines. And while it is certainly true we also need comprehensive health care reform that brings down health care prices, these efforts are a major step in the right direction. It's about time we start coming together around the economic issues that should unite us.