Business leaders lean toward dramatic health-care changes


Friday, September 16, 2005
By Rick Haglund
Detroit Bureau

TRAVERSE CITY — Frustrated over seemingly never-ending hikes in health care costs, some 40 percent of Michigan business executives polled in a new survey say they support nationalized health care or a privately run, single-payer system financed by the federal government.


The poll of 350 business people, released here Thursday at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s annual Future Forum conference, found that 42 percent of those surveyed supported a national health care system. Answering a second question, 40 percent said they supported a single-payer system.

In the wide-ranging survey by pollster Steve Mitchell, business leaders also expressed a deep pessimism about the state’s business climate and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s leadership.

Sixty-nine percent said the state’s business climate is on the wrong track, while only 43 percent approved of the job Granholm is doing.

“We have not seen numbers like this since the early 1990s,” Mitchell said.

That was a time when unemployment in the state topped 15 percent. Unemployment currently is at 6.7 percent.

But Mitchell said Granholm’s low approval rating wasn’t too surprising, given the Republican leanings of most business owners surveyed. President Bush got a 70 percent approval rating in the poll.

Also the national economy is doing well, while Michigan’s manufacturing-based economy is struggling, he said.

Granholm’s spokeswoman Liz Boyd said the governor’s 43-percent approval rating by members of a group with close ties to the state Republican Party was “just great.”

Support for universal health care among most Republican business executives was surprisingly high, even in the face of rapidly rising costs.

“This finding that four in every 10 business decision-makers are willing to look at a different way of delivering health care is something you wouldn’t have seen 10 years ago,” said Mitchell, president of Mitchell Research and Communications Inc. in East Lansing.

His poll surveyed Michigan Chamber of Commerce members from Aug. 15-Sept. 1. Of those surveyed, 72 percent represented businesses employing fewer than 50 workers; 16 percent were in manufacturing.

Rich Studley, senior vice president of government affairs at the chamber, said business owners may be looking to the federal government to provide health care because they’re frustrated that their efforts to control costs aren’t working.

And many of the chamber’s small-business members who can’t afford to provide health insurance for their workers, but who would like to, “see that goal just getting farther and farther away,” Studley said.

William Rustem, president of Public Sector Consultants Inc. in Lansing, said the apparently increasing support by business for universal health care could lead to radical reforms. Many business leaders have been reluctant to push for universal health care because the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are opposed.

“I think this is an amazing result,” Rustem said about the chamber poll. “This may be a recognition by the business community of a public will to do something about health care.”

On Wednesday, the annual Kaiser Family Foundation survey found it now costs U.S. employers an average $10,800 a year to provide health insurance for a family. That’s up 9.2 percent from 2004.

The chamber survey also found the top two problems limiting the hiring of workers in coming years are a lack of skilled applicants and the high cost of health care.

Among various state taxes, 56 percent of business decision-makers said the Single Business Tax was the most onerous.

Studley credited Granholm with proposing sweeping changes in the SBT earlier this year, even though the chamber has vehemently opposed Granholm’s plan to raise taxes on insurance companies in order to give manufacturing and research companies a break.

He criticized the Legislature for not yet passing SBT reform.

“Every day our members are making decisions about whether to stay in Michigan or leave,” Studley said. “The message we want to send to the Legislature is: For goodness sake, take action.”

Bullet Points for Legislators

  • Single Payer saves money.  For the past 20 years, states have commissioned studies on different types of health care systems.   In EVERY case, single payer was shown to be the only way to cover everyone and the only system that saved money and controlled costs.

  • Publicly financed does not mean government run health care.  YOU have publicly finance health coverage, but the government does not make decisions regarding your health care.

  • Cost conscious patients often don't get the care they need.   Most decisions are made by the doctor in concert with the patient, but the patient relies on the doctor's knowledge to make a decision.  Expensive tests and treatments cannot be ordered by the patient, only the doctor.

  • Lifestyle choices are not what is fueling high costs in health care.   The United States ranks low in general health indicators, but high in good health habits.  We smoke less, drink less and consume less animal fat that many other countries with better health indicators and much lower health care costs.

  • Businesses can accurately determine their health care costs and are not subject to unanticipated large premium increases.

  • It will reduce labor costs due to a more efficient way of financing health care, eliminating much wasteful administration.

  • Workers' Compensation costs will be reduced, likely by half, due to the fact that everyone has health coverage and there is no need for the medical portion.

  • It reduces the need for part time employees and provides easier recruiting.  There are no pre-existing conditions or Cobra issues.

  • Eliminates the oversight of health benefits and bargaining health coverage with employees.

  • It creates healthier personnel and more stable employees, reduces absenteeism and eliminates employer health coverage complaints.

  • It reduces employee health related debt and personal bankruptcies.

  • It frees up family income that can be spent on other goods and services, thus stimulating the economy.

Tips for Writing Letters to Editor

Follow guidelines for your local paper (word count, submission instructions, etc.)

Frame your letter in relation to a recent news item Use state specific data whenever possible (let us know if you need help finding some!)

Address counter arguments

Be aware of your audience and emphasize how Medicare for All is good for ALL residents of the state

Criticize other positions, not people Include your credentials (especially if you work in the healthcare field)

Avoid jargon and abbreviations

Don’t overload on statistics and minor details

Cover only one or two points in a single letter

Avoid rambling and vagueness


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