Bottom line – we’re falling behind because of our stance on single-payer

The Top Story by Chris Graham

Poll: Would you support the adoption of some kind of universal health care system in the U.S.?

As recently as a year or two ago, mention of the words universal health care in the context of the ongoing national discussion of what to do to address the growing ranks of the millions of Americans who are uninsured or underinsured and thus lack stable, basic access to health care risked reducing the person uttering them to pantywaist-pinko-commie-liberal status.

But that was before the business and industry community started letting us all in on how they were struggling mightily to compete in the global marketplace given that the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation on the planet that does not offer universal health care to its citizens, in effect leaving the burden of providing health insurance on individuals and businesses who offer insurance as a benefit to employees.

Funny thing – how doing the right thing for doing-the-right-thing’s sake can get you ostracized, but when not doing the right thing starts to affect the bottom line, well, all bets are off.

“You’ll take it when you can get it,” said Al Weed, a former congressional candidate in the Fifth District in Central Virginia and Southside Virginia, and now the chairman of Public Policy Virginia, a Charlottesville-based nonprofit think tank. And you get the support of business and industry when it becomes clear that even the Wal-Marts of the world can’t keep up with the pressures of having to compete with one arm tied behind its back in today’s marketplace. The retailer has involved itself in the health-care debate with the launch of the Better Health Care Together Coalition, a grouping of top business and industrial giants that has set as its goal the development of some sort of plan of action on the health-care front by 2012.

“We don’t drive down to specifics,” Better Health Care Together spokesperson Jody Hoffman told me last week. “We believe that we’ve got to have a public-private collaboration and discussion to get to an American health-care system that works in this country. And there is no presupposed approach. We’re very cognizant that many people will have different points of view. We want to remove ideology from the debate and talk about what works for people.”

It’s not just big business that is affected by the rising cost of health care. “Being a small-business owner myself, and conversing with other small-business owners on a regular basis, I’m aware of the pinch that is being felt on health-care costs. It’s difficult for small-business owners to absorb the increases that we’ve seen in the past few years, especially with the increases in energy prices that we’re seeing right now,” Sixth District Democratic Party congressional nominee Sam Rasoul told me.

And actually, I can speak from personal experience here as well. Augusta Free Press Publishing, the parent company of, does not currently offer health-insurance benefits to its employees, meaning that I am among those 47 million uninsured that you hear so often about. And people like me who have the entrepreneurial spirit can be turned away from trying to work to bring their business and industry ideas to reality by the reality of health-care costs. “The ability of someone to make the choice to do something different with their lives is often constrained by the reality of, Yeah, well, if I do that, I won’t have insurance, and I’m screwed. And that lack of personal flexibility, I think, is a serious inhibition on the basic entrepreneurial nature of our society,” said Weed, the Democratic Party nominee in the Fifth District in 2004 and 2006.

The Dem nominee in the Fifth in ’08, Tom Perriello, is concerned about the impact of spiraling health-care costs on business and industry in the Fifth, which has been reeling from job losses in Southside in recent years. “Health-care costs are definitely part of the equation that is leaving our companies less competitive,” Perriello told me. “I can’t tell you how many times that I talked to small-business owners who always do the right thing by their workers, and they just can’t afford to do it anymore, and it breaks their heart to take those benefits away. But that’s the situation that we’re facing. We’ve got to get those costs down, and we’ve got to reward those companies that are doing right by their workers.”

Perriello believes that there is a “win-win solution out there that makes our businesses more competitive and makes our people healthier.” “I’m not married to any one particular plan. I will support any plan that helps bring costs down and bring coverage to more people. And the fact is, we’re no longer getting the best care. For a lot of us, we’re just paying the most for it. And the fact that it puts us at a disadvantage, and leaves people less healthy, makes no sense,” Perriello said.

Rasoul, one district to the west, has endorsed the HR 676 plan of Michigan Congressman John Conyers that would create a single-payer health-care system modeled on the current Medicare system.

“I appreciate people being able to maintain their freedom of choice, and medical institutions being able to run their operations as they see fit, because they know health care, and they know it well. I see HR 676 as a compromise, because we take care of the funding from one end, and we allow for freedom of movement, and it’s privately-delivered. This is different from quote-unquote socialized medicine that you have in other nations. And I think that this is something that talking throughout the Sixth District with other small-business owners that they’re gravitating toward,” Rasoul said.

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