The following editorial was published in the Bennington Banner, a newspaper in Vermont, a state where single payer is gaining steam. The editorial is in response to the news that the 43-year-old Bennington Iron Works was closing because of heavy competition from firms in Canada, which has a single payer healthcare system.
One comment heard estimated that those firms were selling steel products at a hefty percentage less than BIW could manage. If that is true, we can think of one major cost of doing business that those Canadian firms are not paying — employee health insurance. Of course, the reason is that unlike the United States, most industrialized nations have a health care system that is mostly or wholly funded by the government.
For all their grousing about taxes and environmental and other regulations, pro-business conservatives rarely complain about the huge cost of our health care system — the world’s most expensive — and the fact it is still dominated by private, for-profit insurance firms. And when a single-payer, Medicare-style system is proposed, they rail against that — contending it would be more costly.
But what is the cost of doing business for U.S. firms competing in ruthless global markets, in which foreign companies either have few or no obligations toward employee insurance and/or their workers are paid far less than the average American? Single-payer systems are designed and operated by governments, made up of human beings, and therefore they are not perfect. But in better controlling health care and drug costs, reducing paperwork and keeping profit margins of any private entities within the sanity range, they are far superior.
And they provide a boost to economic development here by dramatically lowering the cost of doing business.
Vermont’s governor, two U.S. senators and members of the state legislature firmly support single payer. Yet, the state, like any other effort to transform the status quo, will still face ferocious opposition from business interests. This, despite the fact that many companies, particularly smaller ones, are dealing with skyrocketing health insurance costs. This editorial contends that our profit-driven healthcare system is undermining the competitiveness of American businesses, with the casualties being companies like Bennington Iron Works and the employees that will be laid off.
There are a lot of good reasons why businesses should support single payer. So why do American corporations fight against shifting the responsibility – and burden – of providing health care from employers to the government, when this will save them money? In short, ideology. According to the Left Business Observer, some business executives don’t want to be seen publicly supporting single payer out of fear of upsetting the conservative orthodoxy that values the private, free market over the government. And, they don’t want to abandon their comrades in the insurance industry. But there’s a more insidious factor at play:
Employers like it when workers feel insecure. Fear of losing health coverage makes workers less willing to strike or resist pay cuts or speedup.
Making workers insecure gives employers even more control over their employees and therefore, the rest of the populace. When unhappy workers can’t leave their jobs out of fear of losing their health insurance, that closes off job opportunities that otherwise might have opened up for the millions of unemployed. And when unhappy workers who are entrepreneurial can’t leave their jobs to start new businesses, that prevents new jobs from being generated.
So it is for this reason why business interests rarely complain about the high cost of our for-profit healthcare system. They really like the fact that they can control people’s lives. And competition from universal healthcare countries like Canada isn’t so much an issue for them as American workers who just might have better and more innovative product ideas. Best to keep those workers on a short leash. And it’s not just workers corporations want to keep in line. Profit-driven health care hurts small mom-and-pops more than large companies. Taking the burden of providing employee health coverage off small businesses would allow them to invest in and grow their companies. That’s a real competitive threat to Big Business.
Canada’s single payer system doesn’t present a huge competitive disadvantage for many large American corporations. These corporations are still raking in billions in profits. When health insurance costs go up, these corporations simply shove more of the financial responsibility onto their employees by taking the costs out of wages. It’s small businesses that are having difficulty competing against large corporations and firms in countries with national health insurance. So it’s small businesses and ordinary citizens who are paying the terrible price for this unfair healthcare system.
To sum up, profit-driven health care is not only unfair and expensive, it makes our society less egalitarian and less democratic. It means less freedom for workers. A single payer system, like the one for California outlined in State Sen. Mark Leno’s bill SB 810, would make our workplaces more democratic. It will result in healthier and happier employees, and better productivity for companies. It will help small companies compete with large corporations. The good news is that there are companies who recognize that single payer is good for business and are willing to speak out in favor of it. More companies should follow their lead.