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Everything Comes (Eventually) on the Wings of Business-Even Health Care

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Single-payer national health care isn’t going to get here because it would be the right thing to do. And it hasn’t a prayer of showing up as a response to the 45, 46, 47 million (and counting) Americans who don’t have it. Nor will it arrive because of the inequity of job-slavery that parents with sick kids endure. For sure the haves will never present it to the have-nots as a fair and equitable sharing of America’s bounty.

So, how then will it arrive?

Boeing and Chrysler, Wal-Mart and CitiGroup, General Electric and Exxon will soon enough be beating down the doors of Congress for relief from their present employee health costs. They will be particularly adamant about their growing obligation to retirees.

They’ll wipe at their wire-rimmed glasses and talk about competitiveness and level playing fields in world markets.

Congress will listen. Faced with unprecedented pension fund defaults and corporate dismemberment of health care plans, drowning in skyrocketing co-payments and watching hospitals turn away the sick and injured at emergency rooms, Congress is already at the pump and primed. The old feared and demonized Democratic ‘socialized medicine’ will suddenly morph into the Republican ‘long overdue health care reform’ and the House and Senate will march hand in bi-partisan hand into the healthy glow of a healthy sunset.

Goodbye Managed Care, so long HMOs and bye-bye to company health plans.  Auf wiedersehen to insurance salesmen and the companies they work for, having long worked against us. Arrivederci to all those co-signators, co-payments, opt-ins, opt-outs, limits of liability, thresholds of participation, write-offs of previous conditions, responsibility confusion, privacy intrusion, incomprehensible billings and surprises at the cashier.

Your friendly old Republican Scrooge is going to make it all go away. Not because he has seen the Ghost of Illness Past, that never moved him sufficiently, but because the Ghost of Illness Yet to Come has appeared on the stair.

(Washington Post) General Motors has been at the forefront of a push to get the UAW to assume responsibility for tens of billions of dollars that the automakers owe for health care and other benefits for retirees. The automakers want to make lump-sum payments to a trust fund and leave to the union decisions related to investing assets and paying benefits.

GM has 332,000 union retirees and $50 billion in retiree health-care obligations.

Collectively, the Detroit automakers have more than $90 billion in unfunded retiree health-care obligations, covering about 1.5 million working and retired employees.

An unfunded $700 billion to fight a ridiculous war against an undefeatable enemy is merely an economic fly to be swatted by future generations. Businessmen shrug at that and eagerly line up for their next tax concession.

They are hardened men, fast on the draw and faster at the leveraged buyout. A few billion here, a few thousand layoffs there, it's the way of commerce.

But an unfunded $90 billion, attributable to three American automobile companies that are already on their knees and would be perfectly solvent if it weren’t for a few decades of crappy decision-making at the executive level—that’s a problem needs solving.

That’s no longer socialized medicine, that’s long overdue health care reform that will allow every God-fearing (possibly Republican) worker to recognize that his (mostly Republican) employer has his best interests at heart. If it weren’t for the Democrat holdouts and their unending political posturing, we’d have had it a long time ago.

(Reasonline, May 11th) Big business jumped on board the health care reform train earlier this week with the announcement of the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform (CAHR). No presidential candidate worth his or her salt has failed to come out in favor of affordable high quality health care for all Americans. (As Wharton health care economist Mark Pauly says, "That's like being in favor of affordable Bentleys for everybody.") The bandwagon has room enough for all of them: The CAHR includes 40 big players including Safeway, Del Monte, Heinz, Kimberley-Clark, PepsiCo, Clorox, Norfolk Southern, GlaxoSmithKline, Aetna, Eli Lilly, Cigna and Kraft Foods.

No Mark, the Bentleys will still be owned and driven by the rich, but we’re likely to see Fords for everyone because the employment cost of having everyone walk to work is just too high.

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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