I've written about this before but it bears repeating--particularly when The New York Times and the rest of the MSM continue to let ideology, not economic facts, dictate policy coverage. Today's Times article on the challenges facing UAW retirees gives us another opportunity see how, despite large public sentiment in support of single-payer, the MSM ignores the only solution that can protect workers' health and security--and save industry here hundreds of billions of dollars.
The Times' article is a preview of national negotiations that open Friday between the auto companies and the United Auto Workers (for what it's worth, I'm a proud UAW member). The thrust of the article is: the auto companies have massive health care costs, particularly for retirees, and it is time for retirees to accept the fact that they've had "generous" benefits to date but, well, it's just not realistic to expect those benefits to continue.
It is absolutely true that the auto companies bear these costs. Tens of billions of dollars in liabilities sit on the balance sheets of the major auto companies simply because of their obligations to current and future retirees--obligations that, in my opinion, are a moral promise made to people who broke their backs in auto plants for years. Daimler unloaded Chrysler largely because of the huge health care costs.
It's interesting that the Times's reporter, Michelle Maynard, spends a fair amount of time talking about an unusual proposal:
In recent months, one unusual solution has come up in pre-negotiations between auto executives and the union, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.
The automakers and the U.A.W. could create a health care trust, called a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, that could take over the responsibility for worker and retiree benefits.
That would allow the three companies to get their combined long-term health care liability, about $100 billion, off their books, and would give the U.A.W. a more direct say in the benefits that its workers would receive.
But the solution carries an enormous price tag: the trust, known as a V.E.B.A., must be funded with cash upfront, with most of the liability accounted for.
The U.A.W. recently agreed to such an arrangement at Dana. It called for the company to pay upfront about 71 cents on the dollar for workers’ estimated health care expenses, or about $800 million.
In the U.A.W.’s case, the car companies would need to come up with far more money, probably in the range of $60 billion to $65 billion, experts say. The more money that is put in the trust, the less risk exists for the union.
I've been aware of this concept but it worries me, even if this is the best solution in a bad situation. As long as we have this insane health care system, where costs are completely unpredictable, saddling the union with the responsibility to manage the crisis seems to me to be very risky. It really angers me that our political leaders have put the union in this predicament where, rather than defend its members, it may have to be in the position to impose cuts in benefits to preserve the VEBA.
And the Times does point out the real risk, for both sides in this potential gamble:
Yet, the concept still gives both sides pause. The companies’ poor credit ratings mean they would pay high interest rates on the money they borrowed to start the trust. Given that, they might be better off leaving things as they are, and try to cut medical costs, some analysts say.
Moreover, the union, not the companies, would be in charge of administering the huge fund, and would have to face tough choices if health care costs climb precipitously.
And, yet, not once--not once--does this article utter the phrase "single-payer." Given the somber tone of the article and the choices facing the union and the company--choices that range from bad to awful--it is an absolute travesty that the piece does not explore the only health care solution that will guarantee every American decent health care AND help business. That's the aspect that is infuriating--single-payer is good for workers AND business (or, at least, all businesses except the leeches in the insurance and drug industries). This is not news (and nyeve and DrSteveB have done a wonderful job explaining the economic benefits of single-payer)
We are letting ideology and greed triumph over sound economics and good policy.
Let me just add a related point on presidential politics. I believe Dennis Kucinich is the only presidential candidate who explicitly calls for a single-payer system. I'm not advocating for his candidacy but it is a mystery to me why the other candidates--who all profess to be concerned about American competitiveness, jobs and health care--won't simply say: health care should not be about profit. Period. And we cannot fix the health care crisis by continuing to let the private insurance industry and drug companies play a role in health care delivery (okay, it's not really a mystery if you look at the the huge amounts of insurance industry and drug company money pouring into the campaign coffers of candidates, presidential and otherwise). I'm hoping that perhaps the presidential candidates forum at YearlyKos will focus heavily on this issue and ask the candidates directly: why are you being so timid?
I have a very bad feeling about the outcome of the negotiations. But, I hope that my union extracts at least one concessions from the companies: a promise to support and lobby for single-payer health care.