It's time for automakers, suppliers, dealers and their associations to demand that the federal government tackle health care reform. The cost burdens imposed by an outmoded health care system are most evident at companies such as General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Delphi Corp. But health care is a national problem that requires Washington to be part of the solution.
A competitor from a country with universal health care has an advantage over U.S. companies. Overseas competitors may pay more taxes, but in America, big employers such as GM pay a disproportionate share of health care costs because their premiums also buy coverage for uninsured people who show up at hospital emergency rooms.
So far, the U.S. auto industry has been timid about seeking relief, perhaps because some suggest that a single-payer system is the only obvious answer. A single-payer system in which the federal government foots the bill would help GM and Ford.
But single-payer health care is a political third rail for conservatives, in much the same way that Social Security reform that reduces entitlements is a political third rail for liberals. As industrial restructuring moves through the economy, our leaders will have to fix health care and Social Security. That means finding political accommodations that are in the best interest of citizens and society.
It isn't necessary to prescribe a remedy this soon because uniquely American solutions are likely to emerge. But
because of the health care cost trauma in Detroit, a catastrophic-claims pool underwritten by the government might be a good first step. It might at least buy the patients a bit more time.