Recently, while cutting some fruit for breakfast, I nearly sliced off the tip of my left index finger. After much bleeding, abundant foul language, and a trip to the emergency room, I’m happy to report the finger was saved.
Including a tetanus shot and skin glue, the bill for my mishap totaled an astounding $982. I shudder to think of the bill had I been in a serious accident. Thankfully, I have health insurance, but how long will that continue when treatment for a simple cut costs nearly $1,000?
Almost all U.S. manufacturers offer health benefits to their employees, but the rising cost of those benefits is impairing their ability to hire workers, battle overseas competitors, develop new products, and invest in assembly technology. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have nearly doubled since 2000, a rate three times faster than wages. In 2008, the average premium for a family plan purchased through an employer was $12,680, which is nearly the annual earnings of a full-time minimum wage job. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers, 55 percent of small and midsized manufacturers reported that their health care costs increased by more than 10 percent during the past year.
The 2008 election seems finally to have goaded Congress to action. In July, the House and Senate released draft reform bills. The bills are too big to be elaborated here, but here are a few key provisions.
People who get insurance through their employer would retain that coverage. A new Health Insurance Exchange would be created so small employers and uninsured individuals could comparison shop among private and public insurers. Over time, the exchange would be opened up to all employers as another choice for covering their employees. Premium subsidies would be provided to individuals and families with low and moderate incomes.
The measure is expected to cost $1 trillion over 10 years, a sobering number to be sure. It will be paid for with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts on programs like Medicare. The House plan would apply an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest Americans. Another possibility is to limit the tax exemption on the most expensive health benefits plans from employers.
Just as there can be no one solution to our increasing energy demands, health care reform must take a multipronged approach to the myriad factors that drive up costs. That means legislators on both sides of the aisle must swallow some bitter medicine. Sorry, Democrats, tort reform must be part of the health care bill. Too bad, Republicans, but a public option should be included in the insurance exchange.
Whatever bill emerges from Congress-and we must demand a legitimate proposal this year-manufacturers should get behind it. The worst we can do is nothing.