The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Posts Tagged ‘health care’

We’re #?

In Political world on October 12, 2010 at 7:45 am

It’s America’s mantra. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” You hear it at sports events. You hear it in discussions of democracy in the world or military might. You heard it during the debate on health care.

The sad fact is, we’re far from number #1 and dropping lower. We’re only #1 in a few very bad ways.

In an article today in Salon, “Collapsing empire watch,” author Glenn Greenwald says:

Just to underscore the rapidity of the decline, as recently as 1999, the U.S. was ranked by the World Health Organization as 24th in life expectancy.  It’s now 49th.  There are other similarly potent indicators.  In 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics ranked the U.S. in 30th place in global infant mortality rates.  Out of 20 “rich countries” measured by UNICEF, the U.S. ranks 19th in “child well-being.” Out of 33 nations measured by the OECD, the U.S. ranks 27th for student math literacy and 22nd for student science literacy.  In 2009, the World Economic Forum ranked 133 nations in terms of “soundness” of their banks, and the U.S. was ranked in 108th place, just behind Tanzania and just ahead of Venezuela.

Health and well-being, education, financial soundness — all areas in which you’d like your country to rank #1.

In order to get to #1, however, there must be agreement that focusing spending and attention on those areas is necessary. You have to decide that economic fairness and security is important for everyone, not just the top ten percent of income earners in the population. And you have to make a commitment to regulating the financial industry to make sure that it doesn’t prey on its own customers.

If we care so much about ranking, it’s time we look at what the rankings tell us. How we rank ultimately reflects our values. Forget politics, think people. What kind of a society do we want to be? What would we like the history books to say about the direction of the United States in the early 21st Century with us at the helm?

Compare the achievements of the New Deal of the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, with the achievements of today, the Great Recession. During extreme hardship, people agreed to help deliver each other from poverty in old age with Social Security, to ensure the continuing of local economies through unemployment insurance, and to improve public facilities and infrastructure by putting the hopelessly unemployed to work in the WPA, the CCC, and other programs. How different the country would feel today if we worked together to improve our collective situation in joint effort. Wouldn’t we be proud?

Guess what we are #1 at. Arms delivery and incarcerations. No pride there.

Single-payer proponents ask for a seat at the table

In Legislation Today on May 15, 2009 at 1:02 pm

The Senate Finance Committee, under Chair Max Baucus (D-Montana), has been holding hearings on health care reform, one of which was held last Tuesday. Proponents of a single-payer health care system–modeled on Medicare and, like Frances Perkins’s most significant accomplishment, Social Security, available to all–were upset that they did not have a representative at the table at any of these hearings. Jerry Call, who attended our conference on May 2nd and spoke up there for the single-payer system, was one of the protestors at the May 12th hearing. Here’s a YouTube video of that event (Jerry appears after about 7 minutes).

Here’s what Jerry said at our conference, talking about the discussion that took place in the Health Care for All workshop:

We’re basically faced with two choices. In probably June or July or maybe as late as August, the Administration will come out with a mandatory for-profit insurance program similar to what Massachusetts has done and failed at. And I think the sense of the group was that we’re pretty much going to lay down and accept it. We’re going to go with the political will of this mandatory insurance program. We’re not going to get a public program out of it. Not only is it not feasible, it’s not advisable. And Baucus already said last week that he is putting it aside, which is the same thing as if  he said it is off the table. It’s off.

So the other option to that is, the other side that we discussed was, well, we could be idealists, if you will. We could step out there and try to do something about it. We could stand up for our principles and say “Let’s go out and let’s demand a single payer Medicare for all system.” So that’s the simple choice. I mean, you can either go out and demand it or you can just lay back and take what Obama will give you. Which is a mandatory for-profit insurance system.

On the same day as the Senate Finance Committee Hearing, May 12, sent an email to members asking them to call their senators and urge them to make sure that a Medicare-based health insurance option stays in the president’s plan. They claim that the Republicans are planning to kill that option:

Luntz wrote a confidential memo that laid out the Republican strategy: Pretend to support reform. Mislead Americans about the heart of Obama’s plan, the public health insurance option. Scare enough people to doom real reform.

If you want to know more about that public health insurance option, check out The Case for Public Plan Choice in National Health Reform: Key to Cost Control and Quality Coverage by Jacob S. Hacker of Berkeley. Here’s the PDF: Jacob_Hacker_Public_Plan_Choice

It’s health care, stupid

In Political world on December 5, 2008 at 5:14 pm

I had the opportunity to listen to about two hours of the House hearings on the big three auto bailout as I drove to Augusta today. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear one word about a major issue that’s driving these companies into the ditch.

National health care was the unfinished piece of Frances Perkins’s agenda. By the 1940s, the country was gearing up for war-time production. There was a labor shortage, and employers started offering health insurance as an enticement to attract workers. National health care seemed less necessary. Unfortunately, when unemployment rates are high, employers no longer need to compete for workers, and benefits seen as “extras” fall by the wayside.

Today, there seems to be a sense in the country that auto workers make way too much money. And when you hear statistics such as this quoted in the NY Times, you can understand where that resentment comes from:

Currently, the average U.A.W. member costs G.M. about $74 an hour in a combination of wages, health care and the value of future benefits, like pensions. Toyota, by comparison, spends the equivalent of about $45 an hour for each of its employees in the United States.

But the article in the Times goes on to clarify:

Base wages between the Big Three and the foreign companies are roughly comparable, with a veteran U.A.W. member earning $28 an hour at the Big Three compared to about $25 an hour at Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Ky. (Toyota pays less at its other American factories.)

But the gap in labor costs becomes larger when health care, particularly for thousands of retirees and surviving spouses, and job security provisions are considered.

The UAW has offered major concessions. For example, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said that

the union would agree to delay the multibillion-dollar payments to a new retiree health care fund that the automakers were scheduled to start making next year.

The Detroit companies will remove billions of dollars in financial obligations from their books when the U.A.W. health care trust takes over responsibility for the medical bills of retirees in 2010. But delaying payments to the trust by the companies is a more pressing concern for the automakers.

G.M., for example, is scheduled to make a payment of $7 billion to the health care trust before the end of next year. The U.A.W.’s offer to delay that payment will significantly help G.M.’s cash flow as it tries to recover.

Clearly, the cost of health care insurance places a tremendous burden on the car companies.

“Taking retiree health care off the books will save the companies billions and billions of dollars,” said Mr. Shaiken [professor of labor studies at U.C. Berkeley]. “By not paying into the trust next year, it won’t postpone the trust, but it will save G.M. and the others a lot of money for now.” At the U.A.W. meeting in Detroit, union officials described their members as extremely anxious about the prospect of more concessions but at the same time afraid of what would happen if the union did not aid the automakers.

But those workers have negotiated for benefits that should be available to all people. Health care is a human right — it’s not an “extra” benefit to use in competing for employees. It’s time to de-link health care and employment. Employer-based health insurance was a stopgap measure in the 1940s — and now we know for sure that it just doesn’t work.