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No question about it. The numbers don’t look good. Last month, the 2017 Milliman Medical Index—which tracks the cost of employer provided healthcare—was released. It reported that the annual healthcare costs for a typical family of four covered by a good, but not great, employer-sponsored PPO plan are now $26,944.
Employers directly pay $15,259 of that amount as their contribution to the premiums for employee health insurance. Employees, on the average, kick in another $11,685: $7,151 as their direct contribution to their health insurance and another $4,534 to cover co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.
Anyone who has ever sat at a bargaining table will tell you that those numbers are unsustainable. Employers are squeezed between the demands of their workers and competitive pressure from nonunion employers who provide little or no health insurance for their employees. There is enormous incentive for employers to cut benefits and shift costs onto the backs of their employees. In fact, the share of total healthcare costs contributed by employers has gone down in every year since 2001.
For union workers, this is a recipe for strikes, lockouts and concession bargaining. It’s even worse for those without union representation. They don’t even get a say in the matter. They have to take whatever the employer offers.
And even when we win, we lose. Unions strong enough to protect decent benefits for their members fall prey to the “politics of resentment” where opportunistic politicians channel the public’s grievances over losing their own health benefits into resentment of workers who still have good benefits. Public workers are particularly vulnerable to this assault. In Vermont, for example, the new Governor is following the Koch Brothers’ playbook by proposing legislation that would deny teachers the right to bargain with school districts over their health benefits.
Unions have no choice. The only way to guarantee decent long-term access to healthcare for their active and retired members and their families is to take it off the bargaining table and make it a right for everyone in America.
There’s Got to Be A Better Way
On June 1, the California state senate passed the Healthy California Bill (SB 562) by a vote of 23 to 14. The Bill will guarantee healthcare to every Californian without co-pays or deductibles. . It now goes to the assembly where eight influential Democrats are co-sponsors.
The Bill passed shortly after the release of a study by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Institute (PERI) led by distinguished economist Dr. Robert Pollin. The study shows that SB 562 could cover every Californian while reducing total healthcare expenditures. “For families at most income levels and for businesses of most sizes, these financial benefits will be substantial.”
A middle income family with employer provided insurance—similar to the family of four described in the above Milliman Medical Index—would pay nothing in employee contributions or out of pocket expenses and just $506 per year in additional sales taxes. Only families in the top 20%--with annual incomes in excess of $227,600—would pay more than they currently pay for healthcare.
Businesses would also pay less. The proposed financing would include a small business credit that would exempt most firms with less that 9 employees from paying any additional taxes and even large corporations with more than 500 employees in the state would be taxed at rates that are .6% less than what they currently pay for employee health insurance.
The numbers don’t lie. The costs of our for-profit healthcare system are an anchor around the neck of America’s working families. It is simply unsustainable. Medicare for All would give us the healthcare that we need through an equitable public financing system that will ensure that everyone pays their fair share. It will provide an economic stimulus for businesses and workers alike.
Waking the Sleeping Giant
Even as the Trump administration and the Republican congress and senate are trying to enact legislation that would deprive 23 million Americans of health insurance in order to give a massive tax cut to the rich, the movement for healthcare justice moves on. In fact, their attacks have awoken a sleeping giant.
Americans rallying against the mean-spirited Republican proposals want more than just to protect the status quo. They are demanding the right to healthcare. And they are demanding that Democrats as well as Republicans, take their concerns seriously. This grassroots activism is the reason why HR 676-The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act now has 112 co-sponsors and why states like California and New York are so close to passing single payer legislation.
It is important that we strike while the iron is hot. The focus is now shifting to the U.S. Senate. We need to stop the Republican healthcare attacks in their tracks while demanding that senators endorse Bernie Sanders’ plan to introduce a Medicare for All bill. That is why we are supporting the call of the Campaign for Guaranteed Healthcare for a healthcare week of action June 24-July1.
Sign up today to help plan an action in your community.