By Nick Zieminski
Reuters, October 22, 2012
U.S. corporate executives are more worried about providing healthcare benefits to their employees than about issues like wages, taxes or attracting qualified workers, according to a survey by the world’s No. 1 staffing company, Adecco SA.
In Adecco’s poll of senior executives, 55 percent named healthcare benefits as their biggest current business challenge, and about a third say they are holding back hiring because of healthcare reforms introduced by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Healthcare’s prominence as an issue has risen since the 2008-2009 recession, Adecco found: in 2007, only 35 percent called healthcare their top worry.
Obama’s 2010 healthcare law, upheld this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, is expected to raise insurance costs for employers because it calls for wider coverage of more people, including those with pre-existing medical conditions.
By Don McCanne, MD
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was designed to not disturb the largest sector of health insurance coverage already in existence: employer-sponsored health plans. Although costs were said to be almost intolerable for many employers, ACA included provisions to improve private health plans which will further increase costs for employers. Thus it is no surprise that health care has moved up on the executives’ list of concerns as their biggest business challenge.
Before the Democrats settled on the ACA model of reform, employers were looking for better ways of controlling costs. One of the models under consideration was single payer, an attractive option because of its greater efficiencies and assured coverage of everyone.
Business executives might have been more interested in the single payer model except for two perceived drawbacks: 1) They were not assured that they wouldn’t have to foot much of the bill for a national health program through higher payroll taxes, higher taxes on executive compensation, and higher corporate taxes, and 2) Many of them are ideologically conservative and did not want to see a government-run health care financing system.
With the passage of ACA health care moved from a top concern of 35 percent of the executives to a top concern of 55 percent of them. That suggests that they may believe they made a bad decision in passively allowing ACA to move forward, though there was token opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Another change taking place is that businesses are relying more on Medicare for their retirees as they pare back their health benefit programs for former employees. Obviously they recognize that Medicare provides a greater value for them than did their private programs, especially because of the federal funding of Medicare. It would not be much of a reach for them to decide that Medicare would also provide a greater value for them if it became the health benefit program for their active employees.
If we were to move forward with an improved Medicare that covered everyone, then the employers would need to be convinced that the taxes to fund the universal risk pool would be equitably distributed, and that they would not have to bear an unfair excessive financial burden for the program. Without getting into details on tax policy, suffice it to say that such a goal is readily achievable.
That would leave only ideology as a hurdle. Successful businessmen certainly place great importance on value. When it is demonstrated to them that an improved Medicare for all would control their health care costs well into the indefinite future, they would be very foolish to reject such a good deal. They really wouldn’t have to give up their ideology. They could take it to the smoking lounge and vent with their business colleagues, over a cigar and a snifter of brandy, how terrible it is that they had to accept the terms of a single payer system, but, after all, business is business.