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THURSDAY, APRIL 14, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Big business may adopt health care reform plan

What President Bill Clinton could not accomplish in the 1990s — reforming the nation's health care system — may soon have more powerful advocates.

General Motors last week triggered aggressive selling of its shares when it failed to meet profit expectations. The two-ton gorilla resting on its bottom line? Escalating health care costs.

Hit rewind to a decade ago.

Decried as creeping socialism, Mr. Clinton's proposal received harsh criticism from almost everyone but those passionate about helping this nation's poor.

Mr. Clinton had expected opposition from the health care and insurance industries, but with caps on the percentage of payroll going to health care he had hoped to get at least some big-business support. Nothing doing.

But the health care crisis is getting worse.

Every General Motors car has $1,700 in health care costs hiding under the hood. That's more than the cost of the steel in the vehicles.

Unionized businesses like GM cannot simply drop employee coverage. About 5 percent of non-union businesses, however, are dropping insurance coverage for their employees every year.

That of course increases the already frightening percentage of Americans with no health insurance. Currently one in every five Americans under the age of 65 is uninsured.

Two years ago, GM Canada's chief executive officer wrote to a Canadian governmental panel. He wrote in response to calls for renovating the country's national health system.

"Publicly funded health care thus accounts for a significant portion of Canada's overall labor cost advantage in auto assembly, versus the United States, which in turn has been a significant factor in maintaining and attracting new auto investment in Canada."

Ford and DaimlerChrysler also have plants in Canada. Like GM, those Canadian operations said they were in favor of continued national health care.

Before Canada adopted a national health care system in 1970, the percentage of gross national product going to health care was 7 percent both in Canada and in the United States. Now the U.S. percentage is at 15 percent while the percentage going to health care in Canada is 9 percent.

GM is one more example that something needs to change in the U.S. health care system.

Now that big business is feeling the pinch, not just millions of poor people, change may be on its way.

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