GM health care strike fiasco is symptom of broken system


The fact that health care benefits are at the center of a United Auto Workers strike that has shut down production at 33 General Motors plants last week shouldn’t surprise anyone who understands how our private health insurance system has wormed its way into all parts of our economy.

From one boss to another, I encourage General Motors to drop its strong-arm tactics in these negotiations, including the boneheaded decision last week to cut off health care benefits to striking workers. Health care benefits should not be used as leverage against workers who only want to take care of their families and have their small slice of the American Dream.

Of course, this strike, and these divisive union negotiations, would not be happening if we had a Medicare for All system.

Under Medicare for All, a person’s health insurance will no longer be tied to their job. It will travel with them as they change careers, move to a different state, get married or divorced. They will also pay no more premiums, co-pays, or deductibles. And the benefits they receive will be better than what they enjoy now – and far less expensive.

Right now people are terrified of losing their health insurance – a dynamic that should not be exploited by General Motors. Medicare for All will level that playing field and take health care off the negotiating table.

Medicare for All will also take the administration of health care benefits off the back of our business community. As the CEO of a company with hundreds of employees, I know personally the expenses and the headaches that come with this antiquated system, including the difficult choices that employers have to make when next year’s insurance bill comes back with a double-digit increase again.

Employee health insurance is 22 percent of payroll at MCS industries, Inc. Respected economists calculate that under Medicare for All, a comprehensive in-benefits plan with no deductibles, no co-pays or out of pocket expenses, would cost less than 10 percent of payroll. That’s meaningful to my company and its employees and would similarly be meaningful to General Motors’ labor economics.

This is one of the reasons I serve as the chairman of Business for Medicare for All, a new national organization that is working to educate and organize the business community around this approach to health care. The group launched late this summer and we already have nearly 1,000 members, ranging from small Main Street-style businesses to large tech companies with hundreds of employees.

The GM strike also reveals fatal flaws in the health care reform plans proposed by several Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden. In the second debate, Biden accused Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other Medicare for All supporters of gambling away the good health care benefits that unions have bargained for.

But the actions taken by General Motors last week shows us a dark side of employer-sponsored health care: It can be ripped away on the temperamental whims of the employer, even removed as punishment for the legally-protected action of a work strike. This could not happen under Medicare for All.

What does the GM strike tell us? We have a broken health care system that has sucked the life, competition, and basic humanity out of our economy. Medicare for All is the pro-business, pro-worker, and pro-union solution to our health care and economic problems.

Richard Master is the chairman and CEO of MCS Industries, the largest supplier of picture frames, mirrors and wall decor in North America, and the chairman of Business for Medicare for All.

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