ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

David Kemnitz, president, North Dakota AFL-CIO, column: Tax rich, not middle class, to pay for reform

By David Kemnitz BISMARCK -- If diligent members of Congress such as Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, all D-N.D., have their way, we can count on the people of North Dakota having even higher quality, more affordable and ...

By David Kemnitz

BISMARCK -- If diligent members of Congress such as Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, all D-N.D., have their way, we can count on the people of North Dakota having even higher quality, more affordable and more accessible health care.

Count on it. After months of hearings, town hall meetings and debate, the Senate stands poised to vote on a bill that will then be merged with House legislation and help solve our present health care problems and avoid the coming health care crisis.

Because we stand closer than ever to achieving real health care reform, it's important to know the facts and cut through the many myths about what health care legislation will and will not do.

The Senate bill takes huge strides toward lowering health care costs and holding insurance companies accountable. It provides coverage to 94 percent of Americans. And despite claims from those who refuse even to allow debate on the bill, the legislation will reduce the deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years.

ADVERTISEMENT

One of the ways the Senate bill reduces health care costs is by making the delivery of care more efficient, hospitals safer and doctors more knowledgeable about the impact of different treatment options. These are reforms that can or should be supported by everyone; at least you would hope the support would be there for something so basic in reforming health care delivery.

But all is not perfect in the Senate bill. Some improvements must be made so that those who have been hit hardest by rising health costs aren't asked to shoulder all of the burden of paying for reform.

One troubling proposal is a tax on the health benefits of middle-class families. It's the wrong path. The average family health care premium is up 131 percent since 1999. Yet some in Washington think it's OK to ask workers already struggling with stagnant wages, higher health care costs and foreclosures to pay more for what they already have.

We know there is a better way. The House has passed legislation that will require the already wealthy to pay a fair share. We think it's only right for those who benefit so richly from the $2.5 trillion Bush tax cuts to pay their fair share. A recent AP poll shows 57 percent of voters favor asking the wealthiest to pay their share.

Another part of the Senate bill that should be expanded is the employer responsibility provision, which requires employers with 50 workers or more to pay a fee if any of their employees get a government subsidy.

The Senate bill is a good start in remedying the unfairness. Many companies that can afford to provide insurance don't, leaving others to pick up the health care tab for those employees. But the employer responsibility provision should be extended to all employers so that all workers have health care security.

Make no mistake: This is bigger than health care. We can't compete with companies around the globe that don't have to shoulder health costs because their countries provide health care options. If we do nothing, we face an economy in which health care costs eat up more and more of our budget.

Conrad and Dorgan voted to let the health care debate continue. We call on them to carry on in making the bill better for the people of North Dakota, and we ask for them to stand with working families in support of health care coverage for all workers and their families.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kemnitz is president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO.

What To Read Next