Big Business Coalition Backs Universal Coverage

So the big news today is the latest coalition to call for universal health care coverage. This time it’s 36 companies, most of them very large: Safeway, PepsiCo, General Mills, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., The Kroger Co., Bumble Bee Seafoods, 
Aetna, Blue Shield of California, Cigna HealthCare, Eli Lilly and Co. and PacifiCare.

Spearheading the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s friend and adviser, Steve Burd, chairman of the Safeway grocery chain. When you consider that there’s likely to be a strike at major grocers in the next several weeks over, among other issues, health insurance, it’s not surprising Mr. Burd would be an activist on this issue. What may surprise some is that the coalition supports requiring everyone to be insured and providing subsidies to those needing help to purchase coverage.

But this shouldn’t be surprising. The Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform represents major employers who already offer workers coverage. They are the ones who pay what the Governor calls the “hidden tax” imposed by the uninsured. When those without coverage need care their costs are shifted to those with insurance which results in higher premiums. Put simply, today’s system imposes unfair costs on corporations doing the right thing by providing insurance to their workers.

There are (at least) two significant things to think about when considering this new coalition. The first is the pressure it will put on Republicans in Congress and state legislatures to get on board with more sweeping reforms than they are currently supporting (An LA Times article quotes Scott Hauge, director of Small Business California as saying  Mr. Burd is on record as believing Governor Schwarzenegger’s call for a four percent tax on businesses not offering workers health insurance is “too low.”)  The Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform is a business oriented group. They are the natural and vocal constituents of the GOP. When they speak, candidates and officeholders listen.

The second consideration is that the coalition has a huge gap in it’s message: it doesn’t explain how to pay for the premium subsidies it proposes for low income individuals. This does make it easier to form a coalition, but it leaves them in an awkward position. Eventually someone will ask how they expect to pay for their proposals. If some members of the coalition were to suggest taxing other members of the coalition, well let’s just say the coalition meetings could get a little interesting.

To me, the meaning behind all this is: 1) the push for meaningful health care reform is real and gaining momentum; 2) the political drumbeat is growing louder across the political spectrum; 3) the support of groups like this strengthens Governor Schwarzenegger’s hand; and 4) the tough decisions are still ahead of us.