Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Mary Flowers, with the Speaker's help, gets a great insurance bill to the Governor

The health insurance system is broken. GM announced plans to lay off 25,000 workers in part because of health care costs (about $1500 per car is health care costs, I read). That puts American manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis Japanese and European manufacturing, where the companies don't have to pay for health care costs. Imagine if GM had to pay for the cost of street lights or libraries in Flint, Michigan. Those cars would be more expensive and people would buy less of them. Similarly, imagine if Toyota or Daimler/Chrysler had to buy health insurance for workers in Osaka or Frankfurt. They don't now, since the government covers health care costs for everyone in Japan and Germany. If the companies had to pay, then their cars would be more expensive and people would buy less of them.

So another example of a broker system where employers are supposed to pay for health insurance is the big retailer, like Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is the largest company in the nation, in terms of market capitalization. And among the most profitable. It's the largest retailer on Earth.
And they don't buy health insurance for all their workers.

Asshole move.

Even worse, people who work for Wal-Mart 30 or 35 or 40 hours a week, can qualify for Medicaid insurance (FamilyCare in Illinois), which the government picks up.

So we taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart's bottom line.

We ought to do something about it.

Mary Flowers had a bill, HB 1044, which would have set up a list of the companies with employees that are on Medicaid. A little sunshine, you might say. Jack Franks jumped on it, and he's got a great populist sense on the insurance industry. So did Patrick Verschoore, Jack McGuire and Milton Patterson. Good combo: black and white, rural, city and suburban.

The bill lost on tax day (ironically enough -- the day when we all pay more so Wal-Mart can make more money), 41-62-1. Here's the vote.

But that didn't stop the indefatigable Mary Flowers. In the last few weeks of session (hat tip to Rich Miller here), she asked the Speaker to insert the provision into a larger bill. And Speaker Madigan did. The larger bill passed, it's now on Governor Blagojevich's desk, and his spokeswoman said he'll sign it.

Well, the Chamber doesn't like the bill. They say it's just a list of shame, in this well-written Sun-Times article by Ben Fischer. And let me just let Mary Flowers, as accurately quoted by Ben Fischer, respond to that. (You can hear her tone in these comments)

Shaming businesses isn't what the list is meant for, said Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), but she doesn't particularly care if that's an offshoot.

"If they don't want to be embarrassed, they can do something about it," she said. "But you tell me, why is it that the taxpayers of the state of Illinois are funding the richest company in the nation?"

and then later

"It appears to me there's a new system that the taxpayers are not aware of . . . where businesses are passing their responsibilities on to us." she said.

Congratulations Representative Flowers!


cal skinner said...

Doesn't it seem pretty obvious that if government will pay for health coverage for one's employees that a business would allow it to do so?

I think I pointed this out on the House floor during consideration of one of the enabling bills.

Amy Allen said...

Good point, Mr.Skinner.
If Franks has such a "populst sense of the insurance industry," why has he consistenly opposed efforts to reduce medical malpractice premiums?

FightforJustice said...

Mary is being named the "Democratic Legislator of the Year" by the Illinois State Crime Commission at its June 29 dinner. Dillard is the Republican, and Mautino gets an Award of Excellence.

One thing Mary and Cal have in common is a willingness to tackle serious issues that may not be the most popular. One issue they agree on (maybe the only one) is mandatory AIDS testing of prisoners.

Nathan Kaufman said...

Have you looked into Costco and Costco's businesss model? You might blog on this.

Per my recollection, Friedman in the book "The World Is Flat" has a section that explores differences between Wal Mart and Costco.

Anonymous said...

What groups opposed this bill?

Pardon my naivete, but why would anyone oppose this bill? What individuals does it hurt (I mean besides the Walton family, and I don't mean John Boy and Co.)

Vasyl said...

Amy asks:

If Franks has such a "populst sense of the insurance industry," why has he consistenly opposed efforts to reduce medical malpractice premiums?

Perhaps because there is no link between medical malpractice caps and lower malpractice premiums? Perhaps because most frivolous lawsuits are settled below the caps anyway, so caps will not hurt plaintiffs with frivolous claims but will prevent those with serious injuries and claims from receiving full compensation?

Cal's comment also misses the point, which is that there are companies out there which pay their employees so little that they qualify for Medicaid despite being employed. It seems to me that if you're working, you should be able to get health insurance. To appear on the list, a company would have to both pay their employees a pittance, and not offer a health plan to those employees.

As long as we rely on employer-sponsored health care as the primary source of financing health care, ideas like Mary Flowers' make sense to me.