HCAN! New York

Our Secret Allies

Posted on May 19th, 2009 by David Vigoda

I’ve been wondering why the campaign for health care reform has found so much support in Congress for a public health insurance plan and much better private insurance. I don’t know about you, but I’m not used to that.

I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Health Care for America Now (HCAN), which is proving to be a very well thought out and executed national grassroots campaign. It’s just that I have trouble believing that any grassroots campaign that takes on the powerful interests working against it could win so much support in so short a time.

I think I found the answer. It’s on page 23 of the May 18 issue of Business Week magazine. “‘CEOs overwhelmingly want out of this business [of offering health insurance benefits],’ says Benjamin Sasse, an Assistant Secretary of Health & Human Services under President George W. Bush…” In other words, not all the powerful interests are working against us. Some are secretly on our side.

Is this really true? Is big business really one of our strongest allies, albeit a silent partner? That’s what Catherine Arnst argues in Business Week. “Health reform experts say many CEOs would secretly love the federal government to take on the burden—and some don’t bother to hide it.” We could be forgiven for not noticing. If you go to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce web site, for example, you’ll find plenty of reform-friendly talk, all right, but not real reform. I guess that’s what makes it secret. It’s also possible the Chamber of Commerce is as out of touch with its constituents as the Republican Party.

That’s the claim of former Assistant Secretary Sasse. He says “many CEOs he has talked with would even pay a new tax if it got them out of the insurance business.” And according to Business Week, “although insurance companies hate the idea (of a new, federally funded insurer), opposition from other businesses has been muted.” Why? Len Nichols, director of health policy at the New America Foundation, a think tank, says it’s because “CEOs know high health care costs put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage.”

I think this explains why so many members of Congress are throwing their arms around HCAN’s proposals that preserve choice of coverage while turning a cold shoulder to the ‘single payer’ folks, who have been working diligently for a single government health plan that would eliminate private insurance: ‘Single payer’ is too big a pill for business to swallow.

So this begs the question, “How happy are we to have big business for an ally?” Are our interests completely aligned, or are we likely to find important differences as the details of reform are worked out in Congress?

How concerned is business that employees lose coverage when they leave the company? Or that people who don’t work for the company are uninsured? Or that their employees are paying more and more for less and less?

The ‘bottom line’ (as business has taught us to say) is that the grassroots campaign for reform can’t let up for a moment. We have to do everything we can to reach out to more and more people, to make sure no one in Congress ‘forgets’ what we want: quality affordable health care for all. That includes a strong public health insurance plan.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t signed up yet—top right of your screen—to let Congress know what you want, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it.

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