Big business gets on the healthcare reform bandwagon

A coalition of large businesses comes out for a change in America's healthcare system.

Published May 7, 2007 5:47PM (EDT)

The idea of universal healthcare, all but dead as a political winner since the Clinton administration healthcare debacle, may have just gotten a big boost. The Los Angeles Times reports today that big corporations have jumped on the bandwagon.

"Abandoning the business lobby's traditional resistance to healthcare reform, a new coalition of 36 major companies plans to launch a political campaign today calling for medical insurance to be expanded to everyone," the Times reports.

The Times' headline says big business is an unlikely ally of healthcare reform, but that's not entirely true. Small to mid-size businesses, as the Times notes, still tend to not favor the idea of government-supported universal healthcare. American big business, however, bogged down by the costs of benefits paid to its workers, should by this point be the natural ally of any idea that would involve shifting some of its costs to the government. We're reminded of Malcolm Gladwell's August 2006 New Yorker article, which focused on pension plans, and discussed how big companies like General Motors shot themselves in the foot, in the 1950s, by rejecting plans that would have spread out the costs of employee benefits over multiple corporations because of the perceived socialist implications of such a plan.

"One of the great mysteries of contemporary American politics is why [G.M. CEO Rick] Wagoner isn't the nation's leading proponent of universal health care and expanded social welfare," Gladwell wrote. "That's the only way out of G.M.'s dilemma. But, from Wagoner's reticence on the issue, you'd think that it was still 1950, or that Wagoner believes he's the Prime Minister of Ireland. 'One thing I've learned is that corporate America has got much more class solidarity than we do -- meaning union people,' the U.S.W.'s Ron Bloom says. 'They really are afraid of getting thrown out of their country clubs, even though their objective ought to be maximizing value for their shareholders.'"

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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