Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Businesses, Republicans, Unions & Democrats Want to Take Away Your Coverage

Earlier this year the strangest coaliton in America proposed a plan jettisoning employer sponsored health insurance in favor of personal responsibility. The group consisted of members of both political parties as well as business and union representatives. WebMD drove home this idea with its story "Is Workplace Healthcare Coverage Dying?"

Nearly 16% of Americans have no health insurance. Some 60% have employer sponsored coverage. Government sponsored programs at the state and national level cover the rest. With the problem of lack of coverage so big, how could any serious politician propose dumping employer sponsored health insurance, the source of coverage for 175 million Americans? At a time when getting more people paying into the system, our elected leaders want to rapidly grow the legions of 47 million uninsured. Why?

First, the Bush administration is leading the way. The President proposed Health Savings Accounts paired with High Deductible Health Plans as the solution to the problem. In 2000 69% had employer sponsored coverage. This dropped to 65% in 2002 and 60% in 2006. His signature program ended up a mere stalling measure. As a result he offered his new solution, tax credits for individuals. This would give insurance companies a chance to boost the price of insurance while the responsiblity shifts away from employers, a literal one-two punch to the pocketbook of the average citizen.

The WebMD article is using past and current inaction to let the air out of the balloon for 175 million Americans. It stated "With no major changes on the horizon in Washington to rein in costs, some experts are saying that the end of the employer-sponsored health system has arrived."

Who are the experts? It's none other than a Union Executive, Andrew Stern, president of the Services Employees International Union which happens to represent health care service workers. "We have to recognize that employer-based health care is ending. It's dying. It will not return." So much for their "stronger together" motto. Who would have thought Unions and Democrats would be behind such thinking, but one need look no further than Ron Wyden-D Oregon for evidence.

If you're appalled by Mr. Stern's comment, it gets better. The article went on to say "Stern points to President Bush's promotion of health savings accounts as a sign. Employers typically pay for a set amount of insurance, even if the cost goes up. But health savings accounts let firms contribute a set amount of money to workers, not a set amount of benefits. As premiums go up, the employer contribution stays the same. And workers can be on the hook for the rest."

This is patently false. Employers must provide insurance through a high deductible health plan for an employee to contribute to a health savings account. Employers do not have to contribute to the HSA and many do not. Most employers that switched to a HDHP didn't pass extra costs on to the employee as the move saved the company some 30-40% in the cost of the health insurance benefit. It makes me wonder why I should listen to someone who doesn't know what they're talking about.

As for employer/employee cost sharing in health insurance premiums, that's been going on for 20 years. Isn't is odd that a group supposedly concerned about employees would give a free pass to employers to completely drop the benefit? What's going on?

Here's the deal. America is being dragged down to the lowest common denominator internationally in order to feul corporate profits and executive incentive compensation. Rather than raise the rest of the world, U.S. leaders want to lower the bar. CEO's rode the outsourcing boom to record profits and individual earnings. There are no easy profit boosts left, save one, dropping health insurance. Businesses, Republicans, Unions and Democrats have decided its time to pluck that low hanging fruit.

Republicans and Democrats currently compete to be the most business friendly. Individual politicians seek to gorge at the campaign money trough and cash heavy corporations lay on the slop. So how do unions fit in? They're seeking relevancy and what better way than to become your group purchaser of health insurance. Yet, most employees will not be able to afford this new responsibility.

With legions of newly uninsureds, America's public health care system will wish it was in hell with its back broke. Private for profit hospitals will weed out the uninsured without resources. Watch for Congress to allow hospitals to not treat patients with large outstanding balances. Rather than debtor prisons, we'll see debtor health care vacuums. Large sections of society will simply go without. Think rural areas before electical co-ops.

What business and elected officials don't understand is the economic engine of local community hospitals. When four of their eight cylinders shut down, many communities will suffer financially. With no income to spend on cheap Chinese made goods, local Walmarts will suffer. Sure the rich will remain rich, but they don't feul much of the real day to day economy. The loss of local employment will feed back on itself in the old Chamber of Commerce multiplier effect. The new dollar extender one won't come close to taking up the slack.

Yet, there will be one more round of profit boosting before the American economy sputters. As health care suffers mightily, will any ventilators remain to inflate Uncle Sam's economic lungs? As long as he has coverage and the ability to pay!