Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Business backs universal health care

I'm catching up on my reading, and just finished an interesting piece on the prospects for health-care reform.

I've argued before that health coverage needs to be de-linked from employment status. It's both a fairness factor for employees (why should I pay more for worse coverage simply because I work for a small business?) and an economic factor for employers, to whom rising health care costs represent a barrier to hiring and a competitive disadvantage versus foreign companies who bear no such burden.

Now, at last, business seems to be reaching the same conclusion. As Sen. Ron Wyden, a longtime advocate of universal coverage, notes, "The refrain from business was, 'We can’t afford to do universal health care.' Now the refrain is, 'We can’t afford not to do it.'"

Which is why you have the odd spectacle of a union-busting CEO, Steve Burd of Safeway supermarkets, joining former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie to form the Coalition to Advance Health Care Reform, a business advocacy group that will push universal coverage.

One might be forgiven for being skeptical, and think this is just another Orwellian-named group whose actual agenda is to scuttle universal care. But Burd has been walking the walk for a while, giving talks to business groups promoting the idea. And one can certainly see the self-interest involved. The real trick will be in the details. Everybody wants universal care -- but what level of benefits? At what cost? Who pays? And who manages it? Those are the things that will need to be ironed out.

Still, it's good to see the various interest groups starting to line up behind the general idea of comprehensive coverage. It's only a first step, but a very important one.

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