For all the rancor in Washington over health insurance reform, our elected officials are still not taking the necessary steps to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance coverage so they receive the care they need to live healthy and productive lives. On one side, the solutions being offered are a continuation of the status quo, where for-profit health insurance companies determine what kind of care a person receives and has the ability to drop coverage when a person gets sick. On the other side, while there are sincere efforts to control costs and cover more people, the solutions are inadequate to address the enormity of the problem. Neither side, however, is addressing how health insurance coverage is primarily provided in this country – through an individual’s employer.
Employer-based delivery of health insurance undermines economic growth and leaves individuals and their families insufficiently covered, if they are covered at all. As health insurance costs have skyrocketed over the past decade, the impact of this system has become all too clear. For businesses, the rising cost of providing health insurance has lowered profits and forced companies to forgo investment in the new equipment, technologies and R&D to remain competitive in the global marketplace. For the employees of those businesses, it means lower wages accompanied by higher premiums, higher co-pays and less coverage. Small businesses, the country’s economic engine, have been particularly hard hit. Nationally, small businesses pay nearly 18% more per worker than larger companies for the exact same insurance policy, leaving them less profitable, less competitive in their industries and less likely to grow. As costs continue to rise, the solution is often to lay off workers and/or to drop coverage all together.
How can we stop this vicious cycle? What can we do to help secure a strong economy and ensure our citizens get the health insurance coverage they need?
Here in California, SB 810, a bill that proposes a single-payer healthcare system for the state, recently cleared the state Senate. If enacted (Gov. Schwarzenegger threatens a veto), a single-payer system could relieve California businesses of the massive expense of providing health insurance to their employees while freeing-up critical dollars to invest in their respective companies. It could also ensure that all California citizens, no matter where they work, have adequate coverage so they can receive the health care they need. While conventional wisdom claims this bill is DOA, it is important that we remind ourselves that the U.S. has had a successful single-payer system for more than four decades. It is called Medicare, which even Republicans support to a large extent.
Before SB-810 is written off as a socialist-plot by the government to take over heath care, let’s challenge our lawmakers in Sacramento to consider Medicare’s success and how a similar model could bring high-quality health care to all Californians while simultaneously helping our businesses to thrive.