Health care reform: Now!

March 9, 2010

By UTU International President Mike Futhey

I agree with President Obama regarding health care legislation: “Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”

We, as a nation, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals — patriots all — must find a way to make health care insurance easier to obtain, more difficult to lose, and more affordable for all Americans.

Health care insurance — the lack of it for tens of millions of Americans; the cost of it for the rest of us — is a crucial component of our economy, and we can’t strengthen the American economy until we fix our health care problem.

The problem is not a shortage of health care in America. The problem is the cost of health care insurance to those who have it; and the cost of delivering health care to those without health care insurance — a cost increasingly borne by those with health care insurance.

You see, those without health care insurance typically delay seeking routine medical care until a health crisis occurs, which dramatically increases the cost of their treatment.

Those costs do not disappear. The staggering hospital and other medical costs incurred by the uninsured — when they do fall ill — is beyond their ability to pay. Those costs are thus shifted to those with health care insurance because, in the end, hospitals, physicians and drug manufacturers must bill someone to stay in business.

While it is near impossible to determine precisely, we know that a meaningful portion of the health care insurance costs of our employers include the costs of treating the uninsured.

Medical-cost inflation also is a big factor in the soaring costs of health care insurance. Since 2004, the cost to major railroads of providing employee health care insurance has soared by 41 percent, to $15,671 per employee annually (of which the employee pays $2,400, and the carrier the remaining $13,271).

Increasingly, carriers are attempting to force a greater share of these health care insurance costs on workers through increased cost sharing. And make no mistake: the carrier does not pay the remainder of the premium as a goodwill gesture. More and more, available wage increases must be sacrificed at the bargaining table because of the soaring cost of health care insurance.

Many smaller employers are actually eliminating company-paid group health care insurance, creating thousands more Americans daily without health care insurance and whose health care costs eventually will fall on those with health care insurance.

Members of Congress must put aside their political differences and stop trading evening-news sound bites.

Only when we extend health care insurance to the tens of millions of Americans now lacking it, prohibit the denial of coverage to those already sick, help low-income families pay for health care insurance, and take meaningful steps to bring health care inflation under control, will we, as a nation, have truly looked into our individual souls and done right by each other.