Monday, May 11, 2009

Healthcare: Feeling the heat

by Ben Sears

On the front page of this morning's Phila Inquirer is an AP article reporting that six national organizations representing various sections of the healthcare industry are telling the President that they will offer $2 trillion in savings over ten years to help pay for a federal healthcare program. A reading of the article yields some interesting insights and some big questions. Some quotes from the article illustrate the point.

First, this offer, to be made in a letter to the President, shows that major private interests in the healthcare industry see the handwriting on the wall, are feeling the heat, and are desperately trying to influence the debate. As the article puts it, "The industry groups are trying to get on the administration bandwagon for expanded coverage now in the hope they can steer Congress away from legislation that would restrict their profitability. Insurers, for example, want to avoid the creation of a government health plan that competes with them to enroll middle-class families."
Further, the article notes that the industry proposal is short on specifics: "There is no detail on how the savings pledge would be enforced....the promised savings on private healthcare costs would accrue to society as a whole, not just the federal government. That's a crucial distinction because specific federal savings are needed to help pay to expand coverage."

Finally, what are the six groups supporting this proposal? In the last paragraph we find them listed. As expected they include the AMA, the American Hospital Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (i.e. the drug companies), the California Hospital Assoc, and the Greater NY Hospital Assoc. That makes five, right? And what is number 6? That would be the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Now my question: What exactly is the SEIU doing on this list along with the heavy hitters in the private healthcare environment? The article, of course, does not shed any light on this issue. Nor does it mention that as of today, over 500 labor and union related organizations including 39 state federations have endorsed the Conyers single payer bill HR 676.

Of course, we do not know what the plan that emeges from Congress and gets to President Obama's desk will look like. It will be the result of horsetrading and compromise based on power relationships. But does the presence of SEIU on this list mean that this union is giving up on, or does not support, the effort to include a public option in the final plan? If so, are they risking isolation and resentment, now or down the road, from from the forces struggling for real change in our healthcare system?