Our members like most Ohioans find themselves in the midst of this fight for affordable, quality health care. As so many speakers will tell you today there are 1.3 million Ohioans without health care. Every 8th person you pass on the street in Ohio does not have health insurance. Count them the next time you go for a walk.
Many of you may think that union represented employees don’t need to be concerned about health care coverage. Well those days, if they ever existed, are gone. Across the nation, in states where we have the data, we see a growing number of union represented public employees on Medicaid—the government health care program for low income individuals who do not have health care.
After 5 years of double digit health care cost increases, no longer are public employers willing to allow employees to keep their health care in exchange for giving up wage increases. Every where we look, we see that the deal is off—a deal that cost our members year after year of wage increases.
And there is a growing number of public employees whose entire paycheck goes for their share of the health care premium. Some find that even after giving their entire paycheck to cover health care, they still owe their employer money for their health care.
We know that 46 million Americans have no health insurance. Another 16 million are in a new category of underinsured. That means these folks spend more than 10% of their income on health care costs.
With escalating health care costs and massive cost shifting to employees we are not only a nation of insured and uninsured, we are a nation of those who have insurance and can afford to use the benefit and those who are insured but cannot afford to use the benefit due to escalating deductibles, co-insurance and co-pays.
Indeed 21% of adults both insured and uninsured have medical debt they are paying off over time. For 44% of them the debt is in excess of $2,000. And no surprise the number one reason for bankruptcy in this country is due to medical expenses.
With every percentage increase in health care costs it is likely that 500,000 people are added to the uninsured as employers either stop offering health care or make it so costly that employees cannot afford to enroll in it.
We have an employer-sponsored health care system in this country. People generally get their health care through their employment. Yet nearly 40% of US employers do not offer health care coverage to their employees. Nearly 60% do not offer retiree health care benefits.
Of course if you are uninsured you are less likely get needed medical treatment or fill your prescriptions. Because of that the National Academy of Sciences estimates that lack of health insurance leads to 18,000 preventable deaths in the United States. That is equivalence of the losses suffered through 6 9/11’s each year.
This lack of health care coverage has serious impacts on our nation’s ability to compete in the global market place. Benefits cost in the United States equals 29% of payroll. While in Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom it is closer to 17%. And the reason for this increased benefit cost in the United States is due to the cost of employer sponsored health care.
Starbucks spends more on health care for their employees than they do on coffee. The auto industry spends more on health care than it does on steel for its cars.
Every car built in America has an additional $1200 in costs due to our inefficient health care system. That makes it very difficult for our auto industry to compete in the global market place. And is it any wonder that GM had its bond rating downgraded to junk bond status—because of its staggering health care costs for its employees and retirees.
So at the same time we are losing our manufacturing sector in the US due to this health care crisis, the number of citizens on Medicaid due to lack of health insurance is increasing. In Ohio the number of non-disabled adults on Medicaid increased by 31% in the last 6 years. These are people who either lost their job or lost health care because their employer stopped offering it or made it too expensive for the employee to afford. So we lose the tax base provided by the manufacturing sector that helps fund programs like Medicaid at the same time we are experiencing increased demand on such programs. This is a public policy disaster.
And while our manufacturing sector cannot compete globally, foreign manufacturers are not building plants in America either. In fact, when Toyota was deciding where in North America to place its next auto factory it by-passed numerous offers of tax subsidies in the United States and opted for Canada due in part to its national health care system. Canadian workers are $4 to $5 cheaper to employ in large part because of the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada.
So while we are in the midst of this health care crisis what does the Ohio Legislature offer us as solutions?
First for school employees the legislature wants to take our members’ right to negotiate health care benefits away. HB 66 once fully enacted will strip hundreds of thousands of school employees of their right to negotiate over health care benefits. These are the same people who have year after year sacrificed wage increases to keep affordable health care. This no solution to the health care crisis we face in Ohio. And if you want to help stop this plan please sign one of the post cards to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate circulating in the audience urging them to keep their hands off our health care and we will make sure they get delivered.
The second solution this legislature has offered us is to force every public employer to offer a high deductible health savings account. These accounts do nothing to help the 1.3 million Ohioans who do not have health care. HSAs do nothing to add needed improvements to the health care system.
HSAs will negatively impact employers’ traditional health care plans as healthier employees leave those plans for the HSAs. HSAs will also make lots of money for countless brokers who manage these accounts. And for those who can afford them, they will provide some tax relief. For those who can’t afford to put $1,000 to $2,000 a year in an HSA they will simply not select health care. And if their income is low enough they will end up on Medicaid.
So while HSAs will reduce the amount of tax dollars coming in, they will also increase the demand for Medicaid. This is not the kind of public policy that our lawmakers should be setting as we address this health care crisis.
We need real health care reform. We need to deliver a wake up call to this legislature that this health care crisis must be addressed. My union, AFSCME Ohio Council 8 will continue to link arms with organizations that are fighting for affordable, quality health care.
So many of our great social programs like Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, the public school system and workers compensation came about because labor unions joined with others to advance these causes. We will win this fight because of our joint efforts and you can count on AFSCME to be at the front of this fight.