Guest Columns

MARTIN: HEALTH CARE SHOULD REFLECT REAL AMERICAN VALUES

We’ll pay now or later, so let’s pay now

Years ago, my brother was diagnosed with cancer. He was lucky enough, through aggressive therapy, to put the disease into what appears to be a permanent remission. But after beating back his disease, he was faced with the challenge of trying to beat an insurance company into covering him with his “pre-existing condition.”

Thus, I became aware early of how the promise of American democracy seldom extends to our health care industry. When President Franklin Roosevelt called for “freedom from want,” he couldn’t have envisioned that — three generations after his death — we would have a health care system in America that is sadly wanting.

We’re going to have to come to grips with the problem of extending health care for all. Those who deceive themselves that this battle can be postponed are dreaming.

As recent research bears out, “estimates show that conservatively over 780,000 citizens, or more than 15 percent of this state’s population, are uninsured. At least another 12 percent of Coloradans are underinsured, placing them at economic risk in the event of a catastrophic illness or injury.”

This is just one state. The national numbers are staggering.

Plainly put, health care should be a “right,” not a “privilege” of affluence or even of employment. The time for patience is past. It’s time to talk about a new Boston Tea Party. If change does not come quickly, we should all take to the streets in protest!

Therefore, until such time as our health care crisis is settled, those of us who are employers “both public and private” should be looking for ways to extend health care benefits to the greatest possible number of people.

The uncertainty of health care benefits causes great distress. Not knowing if children can be treated for simple illnesses causes parents distress. Distressed parents make for distressed employees. And distressed employees create a workplace where less is accomplished.

We need to learn what the nations of Europe learned long ago: health care benefits make for productive employees. In fact, many employees in Europe who earn relatively low salaries are extremely loyal to their employers, both public and private, who provide them with long-term and, in most cases, high-quality health care benefits.

Talk to an employee of Ericsson, in Sweden, or Nokia, in Norway, about the security these companies create in their employees. Ask why rapid employee turnover is an almost unknown phenomenon.

It’s time we moved into the progressive world concerning health care benefits and the workplace.

The University of Colorado system offers just one possible example of a progressive thinking employer. It should support a full extension of health care benefits to all retired faculty, adjunct faculty, non-tenure track, part-time and even graduate instructors.

Will this be expensive for public and private institutions and business? Let’s begin to identify the costs. Will it be as expensive as leaving great segments of employees uninsured? Doubtful.

My guess is that the measure of security employers can begin to provide in terms of health care would work to keep employees, and would be attractive to future prospects for employment around the nation.

I think it’s high time we examine the issue carefully and act swiftly, for the betterment of our entire nation.

One way or another, this expense will come around. As the old Fram Oil Filter ads used to remind us, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.”

Let’s pay now, and begin the process of protecting the health care security of all of our citizens.

Boulder attorney Jim Martin, a former Republican, served as an at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents from 1993 to 2005.