Businesses, Labor Groups Target Universal Health Care by 2012
A coalition of business and union leaders led by Wal-Mart Stores CEO H. Lee Scott and Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern on Wednesday gathered at a press conference to outline four general themes to meet a goal of affordable health care for all U.S. residents by 2012, the Wall Street Journal reports (Maher, Wall Street Journal, 2/8).
The purpose of the coalition -- called Better Health Care Together -- is to "end the nation's reliance on employer-backed health insurance and develop a system for providing universal low-cost coverage within five years," Cox/Baltimore Sun reports (Geewax, Cox/Baltimore Sun, 2/8). While the coalition offered no specific plan, it outlined four broad themes to fulfill this purpose: health coverage for every U.S. resident by 2012; shared financial responsibility by businesses, government and individuals; a sense of personal responsibility for maintaining health; and a more efficient health care system (Appleby, USA Today, 2/8).
The coalition pledged to gather other private sector, labor, government and not-for-profit organizations by the end of May for a national summit to address the issue (Caterinicchia, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/8). Members of the coalition also said that they would recruit other organizations to become members; lobby national, state and local elected officials; and create initiatives to educate workers on the health care system (Wall Street Journal, 2/8).
Other coalition members include AT&T, Intel, the Communications Workers of America, Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and Kelly Services (Mui/Russakoff, Washington Post, 2/8).
Former Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and former President Clinton's then-Chief of Staff John Podesta also appeared at the event (Pugh, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 2/7).
After the news conference, coalition members made visits to lawmakers to gather support for their goals. Stern, Scott and other participants spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and a White House delegation (Costello/Goldman, Los Angeles Times, 2/8).
Stern called working with Wal-Mart "a risk" but said, "What unites us here today is our shared belief that it will be a far greater America when we get affordable health care for all Americans." Scott said that the two organizations "put aside disagreements to drive this debate forward" (Cox/Baltimore Sun, 2/8).
Sarah Clark, spokesperson for Wal-Mart, said that while SEIU and Wal-Mart have "disagreed on many issues" in the past, "resolving America's health care crisis is so important to this country that we're willing to put aside our differences and work together" (Washington Post, 2/8). She also said the coalition is "about engaging leaders at all levels to bring about real and meaningful change to the health care system" (Wall Street Journal, 2/8).
At the conference, Stern said, "I think it's time to admit [the] employer-based health care system is dead." He added, "It's a relic of an industrial economy. America can't compete in the global economy when we ask our businesses to put the price of health care on the cost of their products when their competitors around the world do not" (McClatchy/Miami Herald, 2/7).
Chris Kofinis of WakeUpWalMart.com -- which is funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union -- said the coalition is "about publicity stunts and doesn't address the health care crisis in their stores or in this country" (Los Angeles Times, 2/8).
A statement from the group criticized SEIU's involvement with Wal-Mart. It said, "What is surprising is how anyone, in good conscience, would give Wal-Mart a stage to make empty statements that will not give health care to one more uninsured Wal-Mart worker" (Wall Street Journal, 2/8).
Gerald Shea, head of health policy at AFL-CIO, said, "Their public positioning campaign is one thing, what they do is another." He added, "They want a solution by 2012 -- that's too far away from our point of view. What are you ready to do now?" (Washington Post, 2/8).
Scott said participation in the coalition does not commit the company to spending more on health care. "The costs will be what the costs are," Scott said.
Stern said that SEIU would continue to fund Wal-Mart Watch, a not-for-profit organization critical of Wal-Mart (Wegner, Congress Daily, 2/7).
Len Nichols, a health economist at the New America Foundation, said, "What Scott's reach does is give Republican moderates cover to do what they need to do, and Stern's reach gives moderate Democrats cover to meet the Republicans halfway and solve the problem in a way both can live with" (USA Today, 2/8).
Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said Wal-Mart's support of cost-sharing was surprising, adding, "This is the first time a prominent business group has said that business needs to pay for a portion of any new health care system" (Los Angeles Times, 2/8).
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) called the formation of the coalition "one more piece of evidence that there's broad agreement that Americans deserve a health care system that covers everyone and lowers cost" (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 2/7).
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "This is yet another indication that, save for Iraq, health care will be near or at the top of the political agenda for 2008" (Los Angeles Times, 2/8).
William Custer, an economist and professor of health administration at Georgia State University, said, "I'm skeptical that they at this point agree on anything other than broad general principles," adding, "I do think it's going to have an effect because it's another fairly weighty voice entering the debate and pushing for something to be done" (Wall Street Journal, 2/8).
Several broadcast programs reported on the announcement:
- APM's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Scott, Podesta and Stern (Marshall Genzer, "Marketplace," APM, 2/7.). A transcript of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Scott, Stern and Kofinis (Langfitt, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/8). Audio of the segment is available online.
- PBS' "Nightly Business Report": The segment includes comments from Scott, Stern and Kofinis (Gersh, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 2/7). A transcript of the segment is available online.