To the editor:
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” Joe Biden declared on the day that General Motors (already holding out for higher medical co-pays and deductibles in the new contract) cut strikers’ health insurance, forcing the union to pay for COBRA. On Sept. 26, GM restored worker health benefits, but the issue of employer-based insurance remains.
Although the strike might be settled by the time this letter is printed, the truth is GM workers are not alone: 28 percent of people on an employer plan will not be on that same plan one year later.
You like your employer health plan? You better cross your fingers, because 1-in-4 people on employer plans will come off their plan in the next 12 months.
The GM workers’ strike changes the stance of unions. Workers are not only striking for consistent health benefits, they are also striking against the “gig economy,” which puts some GM workers outside the benefit package altogether. By 2020, the number of self-employed or part-time employees is expected to reach 42 million. And the autoworkers union is fighting to make more workers full-time.
A recent study in the state — which has better insurance coverage than most of the rest of the country — shows 40 percent with insurance are “underinsured.” This means they are avoiding doctors and delaying prescriptions because of cost.
Public health experts, economists and providers know this drives people to emergency rooms when they are much sicker, much more expensive to treat, much less likely to regain full health. One more reason for America’s terrible health metrics relative to the rest of the world.
Unaffordable medical bills trigger two-thirds of bankruptcies. The average family with employer-based insurance pays more on premium contributions than on food for a year, more on health care premiums plus out-of-pocket expenses than on housing.
These costs are unsustainable for families, but they are worse for our economy. Not so long ago, health care costs were 12 percent of our gross domestic product. Now they’re 18 percent. By 2030, they may reach 30 percent of GDP. For-profit insurers don’t control prices because higher prices raise profits.
And more than 30 percent of that cost is wasteful bureaucracy that doesn’t benefit health. This wasted $1 trillion per year partially explains why Americans pay twice as much as peer countries for inferior health.
And what drives the waste? Corporate-run health insurance.
While opponents argue we should just insure the 10 percent of Americans without insurance, they fail to recognize that Medicaid is a means-tested program that varies from state to state.
Medicare For All would level the playing field and eliminate racial and financial injustice, guaranteeing everyone the same quality care under private physicians, and with added benefits and no co-pays or deductibles.
To paraphrase an often misquoted, misused phrase: What’s good for General Motors workers may well be good for America.
As the United Automobile Workers led the nation in negotiating health care, so it may lead the nation, showing that Medicare For All is good for unions.