It goes without saying that a healthy worker is a better, more productive worker. Sickness not only cuts into productivity by taking an employee out of the office, but chronic, untreated conditions can sap energy, happiness, and ability, resulting in a less productive environment for both the employee and the employer.
This is why in the 1940s, when businesses were competing for workers but couldn't raise wages due to wartime wage controls, health insurance was introduced as a benefit. It was a win for both sides. Back then, health care was a non-profit enterprise, and everyone was charged the same premium no matter their age, sex, or pre-existing conditions, so costs were much lower. And employers realized that healthy workers were better for business. Today, this is how most Americans get their health care, as a benefit provided by their employer.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. Today, private insurers of the mostly for-profit type cherry-pick the customers they can make money on while dumping those who actually need to access the care they've paid the insurance companies to provide either on their own without insurance or on the rolls of state programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Combined with the rising cost of health care as technology transforms medicine, and you have a system that currently allows insurance companies to rake in sky-high profits while the rest of us are facing sky-high premiums we can't afford to pay. And even if we can pay them, insurance companies work to deny our claims.
The solution is fairly straightforward. We've all got to share the risk. Insurance companies should be forced to take on all patients, and public plans should be forced to do the same. This way, risk is shared fairly.
These skyrocketing costs hit businesses hard. As Amber Sparks from UFCW explains, health care costs are now so high, they threaten companies and their employees:
Every time UFCW members go to the bargaining table to negotiate a new contract, health care is the five hundred pound gorilla in the room. It's the same fight that we face in every contract negotiation these days, that battle for quality, affordable health care for all of our members.
As the costs of health care continue to march up an infinite incline, everyone suffers-employers are no exception. And employers respond by trying to cut their health care costs when negotiating a new contract, forcing us to spend all our energy and resources to preserve the quality of health care and keep workers' costs down, too.
So, let's review. Healthy workers are productive workers, so businesses want to offer health benefits to their employees to stay competitive. Yet, because private insurance has blocked fair risk sharing, skyrocketing costs are borne by businesses in the form of higher premiums to insure their workers, and these costs are either passed along to the worker in the form of rising health care contributions, or health benefits are scaled back or cut altogether. In short, our health care system is sapping our productivity and putting a huge burden on our businesses. It goes without saying that this isn't good for the economy.
At it's heart, health care is an economic issue, and that's something that gets the attention of everyone in America, both progressives and conservatives.
So, workers, business owners, and labor activists need to be talking about health care. And to a large extent, most people get it. There is a reason every labor union has health care reform as one of their top political priorities. Now we've just got to get the rest of the country on board.