Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Could Wal-Mart be pushing the U.S. towards universal healthcare?

In reality, probably not. But it's interesting to note what happens when a giant player like Wal-Mart enters the picture:
Wal-Mart foes detail costs to community; Public subsidizes workers, study says
[Rep. George] Miller [D-Martinez] released a 22-page report by the Democratic staff of his House committee detailing how nonunionized Wal-Mart, the largest employer in both the United States and Mexico, allegedly imposes financial burdens on local governments. A certain percentage of its workers must turn to subsidized medical care, free school lunches, housing subsidies and other taxpayer-supported welfare services, Miller said.
The irony of this is galling--Wal-Mart is so influential that it's self-centered policies can actually end up bolstering the need for the "welfare state." The problem, of course, is that here in wonderful America, thanks to the tireless efforts of conservatives, the welfare state really, really sucks.

Look at the question this way: Why should employers be expected to cover the costs of medical care for their employees in the first place? It's ridiculous, if you think about it: If I own a business and I have some additional work that needs to be done, why can't I just hire someone to do it? Why should I have to worry about health care for this person? Why should that even be my concern? I just need somebody to do the work! If I'm a small business, especially, I risk bankrupting myself by trying to do the "right thing" (especially if I have to compete with a big fish like Wal-Mart).

The only reason it's like this is because there has never been adequate support in this country to enact a system that actually makes sense. In America, the ultimate motivation for doing anything is for private investors to make money off of it. If there's no money to be made, then it doesn't get done (witness the national shortage of tetanus vaccine), and any effort to get the government to solve a problem is inevitably decried, because having the government solve something would actually prevent potential investors from making their oh-so-holy profit. This is precisely what a sensible healthcare system would do: the current state of extreme profiteering would evaporate. Consequently, a universal healthcare system was never implemented here. The current stupid system evolved to fill in the void, and filled it in so pervasively that a small move towards a more sensible arrangement, such as what Wal-Mart is doing, actually hurts people. This puts socially conscious and progressive people in the position of having to stick up for the wholly inadequate status quo! We end up having do defend a system that plainly sucks.

It's ironic that the business sector continues to oppose enacting universal healthcare in the United States, in spite of the fact that it would actually be good for business. Especially small business:
O Canada; Oy Vey United States
National health insurance allows Canadians greater freedom and latitude to plan their lives. No one in Canada takes a job or remains in a job because of its health benefits. Canadians do not strike over lack of health coverage.
And I hasten to add here that no one who owns a small business worries about being expected to provide healthcare for his or her employees. This could be a tremendous boon to entrepeneurs--which may be a reason why big American corporate interests are against it. Big American corporations never show an interest in leveling the playing field. Continuing:
By not tying health insurance to the job, Canadian businesses have become more competitive. In the U.S., automakers spend about $1,200 per car on health insurance. In Canada, the cost is about $120 per car. In November 2002, officials from Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler wrote Canadian policymakers urging them to maintain and strengthen their national health system. "The public health system significantly reduces total labor costs...compared to the cost of equivalent private health insurance services purchased by U.S.-based automakers."
So big corporations benefit in Canada, too.
Needless to say, the car companies did not send a similar letter to American policy makers.
Why, exactly? Unfortunately, the article doesn't go into that subject, but my theory is that "Big Healthcare" in America controls so much money that investors worry that tampering with it will trash the economy. (That, and the concept of not wanting to level the playing field, which I mentioned above.) It's a plausible theory, I suppose, but it doesn't help the folks who work at Wal-Mart, who end up depending on inadequate American social programs.


Post a Comment

<< Home