Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bob Master's Fair Share testimony to the Senate

Bob Master is the Co-Chair of the New York Working Families Party and the Legislative and Political Director of CWA District 1

Good morning Chairman Hannon, Chairman Seward, and distinguished members of the Senate Health and Insurance Committees. I am here on behalf of both the Working Families Party and my union, the Communications Workers of America.

In my view, the only viable solution to the problem of the uninsured in the near term is a requirement that large businesses spend a reasonable amount on health benefits.

My colleague Josh Mason will explain in more detail why we think Fair Share is the solution in a moment. But first, I want to make two fundamental points.

First, our current system of employer-sponsored health insurance is collapsing. The question is not, keep our current system or change it. If we don’t take positive steps to shore it up, it will change - and almost certainly not for the better.

Second, Fair Share is the conservative solution to our health care crisis. The goal of Fair Share is simply to preserve the existing division of responsibility between employers, workers and the public. It will halt the race to the bottom and preserve employment-based health care as we know it - which right now is going the way of the dinosaurs.

There is not a business in the state that is not looking for ways to reduce its health care costs. And right now, the easiest way for them to reduce their costs is to pass them off to someone else - their workers or the taxpayer.

Even businesses with long histories of good benefit packages, and good relations with their workers, businesses that prize loyalty and encourage long-term commitments from their workers - even these businesses are being forced by competitive pressure to cut back on health benefits. The "high-road" business model cannot survive under the perverse incentives our current health care system creates.

I was at Macy's recently, and I noticed a plaque on the wall honoring employees who had been with the company for 50 years. This is not the model in retail today.

If the government doesn't put a floor under benefits, just like it puts a floor under wages, every business will make a rational decision to rush to the bottom. They will stop creating good jobs like Macy’s, or like older industrial employers. Because right now, there is no reward for the business that provides good benefits. In fact, they are forced to not only pay for their own workers' health insurance, but to subsidize those businesses that leave their workers uninsured.

Let me end with this thought. The health care system is not standing still. If you want to preserve employment-based health insurance - if you do not want to pass a much more radical reform down the road - then you need to pass something like Fair Share this year.

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