Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Leads by Example--The Importance of Reaching Out in the Health Care Debate

Fundamental health care reform will not occur until the traditional opponents in the debate are willing to work together to build the foundation for a national consensus on how our health care system will work. No one side is ever going to win this debate and until the big players come to understand that the health care debate will give us more frustration than results.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) stands out as a health care stakeholder willing to reach out to others who haven't been natural allies before in order to make real progress.

Mary Kay Henry serves as an Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, the nation’s largest health care union. In her capacity as the head of the union’s Health Systems Division, Mary Kay works with the union’s nearly 1 million health care providers to advocate for better patient care and working conditions, and a more rational and humane health care system.

Today, Mary Kay is a guest contributor. Here are her comments on the importance of partnerships in health care reform, the principals for change, and the importance of breaking the logjam:

At SEIU, we look at health care from a number of different vantage points. Our membership includes nearly 1 million nurses, physicians, hospital staff, nursing home, and home care workers. We also represent 1 million service workers in public and property service industries. So we see health care from the bedside, but we also see it at the bargaining table and the dining room table.

And so, over the past year, we’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the national health care policy debate. We’ve reached out to some new and unlikely allies – starting the kind of partnerships that are necessary if we are going to get health care reform right. In January we announced the creation of the Divided We Fail partnership with AARP and the Business Roundtable. In February we stood with top Fortune 500 CEOs, civic leaders, and policy advocates to launch the historic Better Health Care Together coalition. Just last week the Partnership for Quality Care brought health care providers of all levels – from hospital CEOs to CCU nurses – together to combine their energies, insight, and experience on the health care crisis.

Although each of these partnerships is different, they come together on what must get done:
  • coverage must be universal – extending to every man, woman and child in America;
  • quality and efficiency of care must improve dramatically – we currently spend far more than other advanced nations with far less to show for it in terms of health outcomes;
  • costs must be brought under control by establishing a stable, broad-based, and predictable health care financing system;
  • consumers must retain the right to choose among providers and care plans; and
  • preventive care must be available to promote health, control costs, and eliminate economic and racial disparities.
But agreeing to principles is only one part of the task before us. Before we will see any significant change in our health care system, we must dispel the following stubborn myths:

Myth #1: Reform must move at a glacial pace, and be done piecemeal. This is the conclusion many people draw from the failed reform efforts of 1994. But thirteen years later, things are profoundly different. 46 million people go without coverage every day, and less than a quarter of middle class families can cope with a typical medical emergency. According to a recent New York Times poll, a majority of Americans now say they are even willing to pay higher taxes and forgo future tax cuts to guarantee health insurance for all.

Myth #2: America’s health care crisis is a moral problem only. Ask any CEO or CFO and they’ll tell you why it’s an urgent economic crisis as well. We are the only industrialized nation in the world that puts the price of healthcare on the cost of our products. By 2008, American business will pay more for health care than they will make in profits. That is a major drag on American business competitiveness. And it is simply not sustainable.

I’m learning that health care reform is more art than science. It’s time – past time, in fact – to summon the collective creativity and wisdom of American business, labor unions, the nonprofit sector, government and health care providers to make it happen. After all, the health of our nation depends on it.


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