Single payer, job creator

Maybe I didn’t get the memo, but I don’t recall seeing much airtime/ink/bandwidth devoted to discussing single-payer healthcare as a jobs program. And that’s too bad, because job creation could be an effective talking point.

Here’s the crux of the argument: Under a national, single-payer healthcare plan [and can’t we just call it Medicare for All, already?], businesses would no longer have to pay the huge costs of health care benefits for their employees. Removing the cost of health care benefits would mean that creating jobs would be less expensive. Voila! One less reason to hold back on hiring. Companies will be quicker to hire when they’re growing, and quicker to rehire when the economy starts recovering from recession.

I’m not saying that single-payer  Medicare for All is the only answer to America’s jobs crisis, but it certainly could contribute to a much improved employment picture for businesses.

Here are a few salient numbers that help make the case, as compiled by the Business Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare. Under Medicare for All [HR. 676], businesses would:

  • Eliminate health care benefits and reduce their labor costs by 10 – 12 %
  • Cut workers’ compensation by up to 50%
  • Become more competitive with foreign products
  • Eliminate health care benefits management costs and related labor negotiations
  • Free up worker income to buy new products and services, thereby improving the economy

In addition,  in a 2009 study, researchers at the California Nurses Association concluded that Medicare for All would be both a job creator and an economic stimulus:

Overall, expanding and upgrading Medicare to cover all Americans (single-payer) would create 2.6 million new jobs at an average salary of $38, 262 per year, [paralleling almost exactly the total job loss in 2008], infuse $317 billion in new business and public revenues, and inject another $100 billion in wages into the U.S. economy.

On the political front, a national Medicare for All  plan would blunt conservative criticisms [many of which are not based on fact, of course] of the healthcare reform law passed in 2010. Politicians who want to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act claim that it has increased health care premiums and is contributing to slow job growth. That assertion has been shown to be false, but when facts don’t matter, the contention lives on as a talking point for politicians hell-bent on undermining anything promoted by the Obama administration. A Medicare for All system would render moot the contention that “rising health care premiums caused by the health reform act”  are strangling businesses.

Another popular meme is the one about how small businesses create a significant proportion of new jobs in the U.S. [A popularly quoted figure is 65 percent, but it depends on the meaning of the term “small.”] If that’s the case, then Medicare for All would be a plus in that sector, too.  In Vermont, for example, where a proposed single-payer plan is in the works, a recent Burlington Free Press article  put it this way:

You probably know people who dream of starting their own businesses, or joining their spouse’s business, but who can’t quit their day jobs because they need the health insurance. Imagine the boon to the economy if all those people become free to unleash their entrepreneurial passion. Imagine the great new products and services that they will create. Imagine how much happier those people will be working for themselves in a business they care about.

Admittedly, a single-payer system could have the effect of eliminating a lot of jobs in the existing health insurance industry. That result would, indeed, stand in contrast to the less-talked-about job security for claims deniers, plan administrators and exorbitantly paid executives that the 2010 health reform act created when its mandate gifted millions of new members to private health insurers. But Medicare for All will need administrators, too, so many current workers would find new opportunities in the new structure.

In Oregon, where a single payer act was proposed in the state legislature early in 2011, the pro-single-payer group, Mad as Hell Doctors, compiled a list of popular knocks on the proposed bill. Among them was the charge that, under a state-run single-payer health plan, “…twenty-one hundred (2,100) independent insurance agents with an estimated annual payroll of $350 million would immediately have no business and no jobs.Mad as Hell Doctors countered this contention by saying:

The bill as drafted includes funding for the retraining of workers displaced by implementation of the Plan. Based on single payer studies from other states and nationally, Oregon will enjoy creation of approximately 40,000 new jobs. Thus these 2,100 agents would be retrained and compete for the 40,000 new jobs. While they retrain, they and their families, like other Oregonians, would enjoy uninterrupted access to health care.

In addition, as current Medicare enrollees know, even under a single-payer system, there’s going to be a need for some form of supplemental insurance for services and expenses not covered by the program. That’s an opportunity for private insurers, who will need employees to administer those policies.  One CEO who sees the up side is Bill Little, vice president for Vermont’s MVP Health Care, as reported by VT Digger:

“It’s not keeping me up at night,” said Little, who added that under the plan his company might be able to offer supplemental coverage to Vermonters covered by the single-payer plan, including Medicare patients.”

Policymakers, pundits, state legislators, health care providers, insurance companies, lobbyists and individual citizens have been debating the merits of Medicare for All for years [led, of course, by the ahead-of-his-time Congressman Dennis Kucinich]. With the economy in a slump and employment at record highs, there’s a whole new economic rationale for pushing the Medicare for All scenario.While unceasingly vilified by the profit-makers, ignored or labeled as [gasp!] socialism in campaign dialogues and debates, and shot down by legislators bought and paid for by the private-insurance lobbying juggernaut—Medicare for All deserves serious consideration through the wide-angle lens of job creation.

Gloria Shur Bilchik Gloria Shur Bilchik (615 Posts)

Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.