TEAMSTERS’ General President James P Hoffa has spoken up about the US health care crisis in the wake of the attempts of the Big Three, GM, Ford and Chrysler’s drive to ditch their health care commitments.
He focuses on the issue that providing health care through union contracts is now both hurting the employers, and ‘our businesses’ and destroying US jobs, in the face of foreign competition.
The employers’ position is that either the unions or some other body should be responsible for health care, not them.
Hoffa is leading the call for ‘a single payer health care system’.
he is seeking the support of the next US administration and the US employers for this position.
He said last week: ‘With all the talk of health care costs in the contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and the Big Three, you almost forget that Ford, General Motors and Chrysler produce automobiles, not stethoscopes or hospital equipment.
‘While it is too early to know the outcome, these discussions have definitely shined a light on our national health care system, and what we see isn’t pretty.
‘Health insurance costs are skyrocketing, and these costs are causing a loss of jobs and making America less competitive.
‘While our businesses compete in a global economy, our health care system puts them at a severe disadvantage.
‘The majority of our trading partners have established national health insurance, including the country that is home to the big three’s chief competitors.
‘Japan offers national health insurance to citizens, relieving Toyota, Mazda and Honda of much of the costs that the big three say have become unbearable.
‘According to a Morgan Stanley research report, without any changes in health care coverage, the bill of GM, the country’s largest provider of health insurance, could balloon by 40 per cent over the next decade and Ford’s by 16 per cent.
‘These increases are not limited to the automobile industry.
‘Companies that provide health care for their employees have faced double-digit cost increases, and two-thirds of large employers have increased employee co-pays in the last year alone.
‘Without question, a national health care system is the most sensible plan for individuals and businesses.
‘Some argue that such a system would be unrealistic, but nothing is realistic about maintaining our current system.
‘Unfortunately, the person who should be leading the call for a single-payer health care system seems blind to the bind Americans face.
‘Last month, President Bush said, “People have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.”
‘That is ludicrous! Imagining emergency rooms as a primary form of health care shows just how disconnected the president is from reality, or how a preventative health care system should function.
‘While some argue that a national health care system is a recipe for bloated government bureaucracy and inefficiency, they’re unaware that it can’t be much worse than our convoluted market-based system.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international organisation committed to growing market economies, we spent far more on health care coverage than any other developed nation – an average of $6,102 per person on health care in 2004 (more recent figures are not available), which consisted of 15.2 percent of our gross domestic product, far above the $2,550, or 8.9 per cent of GDP, average for 30 other countries.
‘Even with our extra spending, Americans’ average life expectancy was lower than other countries’, our obesity and infant mortality rates were higher, and we left 46 million citizens uninsured.
‘The cold truth that many of us work under is that employer-provided health care coverage is shaky at best.
‘Let’s say you lose your job; not only are you financially vulnerable, you’re quite possibly going to lose health coverage for you and your family.
‘It’s senseless that this possibility exists in our society, although it could explain why our overall health statistics trail those of other developed countries.
‘There’s a little-known program that has made a major difference for low-income children.
‘State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, has provided health care coverage for 7.4 million children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to be able to afford private health insurance.
‘This program has a proven record – it was originally passed in 1997 – and more people want to take part in it.
‘Last month, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate set about improving the program by passing bills that increase funding, enabling more to participate.
‘Yet the president has threatened that he will veto the bills. He fears that this successful program is the first step toward government-provided health care for all.
‘If anyone is in a position to judge the state of government-provided health care, it’s President Bush.
‘As David Lazarus noted in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, the president’s opposition to a government-run health care system comes “from a man who just underwent a colonoscopy performed at the taxpayer-funded, state-of-the-art medical facility at Camp David by an elite team of doctors from the taxpayer-funded National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.”
‘No one wants to deny our president the very best health care available.
‘But if he cannot recognise that all Americans deserve the same care, we have to convince him that this is exactly what we need.’
Hoffa said earlier: ‘The mission of the Teamsters Union is to protect the rights of working people. We always fight for what we believe in and we always will.
‘We will fight to the bitter end to protect the interests of this country’s working families.
‘We fought for years against the Republican-controlled Congress on a variety of issues, including trade policy reform.
‘We fought for our political allies across the country to get them elected during the midterm elections in November 2006 – a battle that we won.
‘Our mission does not change, no matter who is in office. We are working with members of Congress on righting the wrongs of the past decade’s misguided trade policies.’
However what is required in the US are political changes that will bring in a national health care service, and a defence of jobs and living standards against employers and administrations that are 100 per cent opposed to both.
The furthest that the bosses will go is that the trade unions should be looking after healthcare, not them.
The Democrats when last in office brought forward Hillary Clinton to deal with the health crisis.
She and the Democrats ran away as soon as the first shot in the battle was fired.
Now Mrs Clinton wants to be president, and will be just as unwilling and unable as she was last time around to tackle the bosses to bring in a health care system.
What goes for Clinton goes for Obama, and Edwards.
They are part and parcel of the US capitalist system.
What is required is that the unions, now the backbone of the Democratic party, break from it and form a Labour Party, that will lead the struggle for a social revolution as far as legislation to establish national health care, the defence of jobs, and to end low pay in a country where the minimum wage is £3 an hour.