Nov 11, 2007
Sacramento Bee: Negotiations are key to health care deal
Most everyone you ask today agrees that California and our nation face a major health care crisis.
The number of uninsured families continues to grow and rising costs make affordability for the average worker difficult, if not impossible. The failure to tackle real solutions has resulted in a national travesty where "sick care," not health care, has become the norm. More and more, emergency rooms are becoming the first stop for care, driving up costs and exasperating an already overwhelmed delivery system.
What's worse is health care costs are on a dangerous path, fast approaching 25 percent of our nation's gross domestic product. At this rate, our nation's economy could be thrown into gridlock, threatening jobs by the inability of U.S. businesses to compete in a global marketplace.
This crisis has forced us both – the chief executive officer of a Fortune 100 company and the international president of a major labor union – to think in new ways about health care. We both stepped outside the box to figure out the best way to make sure employees have access to affordable health coverage.
Our work came to fruition during our recent labor contract negotiations in Southern California in which we agreed to change the focus of the health care plan to one that emphasizes prevention and wellness rather than on treating people after they have developed a chronic or life-threatening disease. The plan rewards employees for getting annual physicals and participating in smoking cessation and other wellness programs.
If we are to be successful in repairing the nation's health care system, we have to make sure that changing behavior is part of the health care reform equation, and that means creating a system that provides incentives for living healthier. Annual checkups, cancer screenings and other wellness care can improve quality of life, help drive down costs and increase access to coverage.
A change in focus to preventive care is the cornerstone for reorienting the nation's health care system, and everyone – employees, businesses and government – will have to change behavior and share the responsibility for creating a more effective and accessible health care system. Businesses must be willing to creatively and effectively address the high costs of health care coverage. Elected officials must have the courage to establish fair protocols for ensuring meaningful contributions from everyone.
In our industry, we recognized that we needed to address the growing health care challenges we face, and we had an opportunity to lead by example. California now has the opportunity to do the same by passing real and effective reform this year.
We are optimistic that over the next several weeks California's elected leaders will blaze the trail for the rest of the nation by reaching consensus on meaningful health care reform that bolsters the economy, covers everyone, drives down costs and increases the quality of health care. Finding a comprehensive solution to this crisis is critical to the financial and physical health of employers, workers and families throughout California and the nation.
Some of the proposed solutions may be tough medicine to swallow. The truth is, we have reached a point where maintaining the status quo is a dangerous alternative. We are close to achieving reforms that can help right the system. Our elected leaders, and all interested parties in this debate, can learn from the Southern California grocery experience, where we have seen the positive results of weathering the storm, staying at the table and reaching agreement: Remarkable things can happen.
About the writer:
* Steve Burd is the chief executive officer of Safeway and chairman of the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform, a group of more than 50 companies advocating solutions to the healthcare crisis. Joe Hansen is the international president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union, representing more than 1.3 million members in North America and was the only labor representative who served on the congressionally mandated Citizens Health Care Working Group.