Protesters from the community group Insure Idaho rally about Idaho's need for more affordable health care in front of the Statehouse in Boise, January 10, 2005. (AP/Troy Maben)
Traditionally, auto workers in America have enjoyed health care that is about as close to free as you can get: no monthly premiums and no deductibles. Take the example of General Motors, which is going to spend $5.6 billion this year on health care, to cover about 1.1 million employees and retirees. That adds up to about $1500 per vehicle they produce. When the union and the auto companies start negotiating changes in health coverage and costs, it's clear that big changes are coming. Across the nation, many companies are searching for ways to control and cut the costs of employee healthcare.
"Clearly something has got to change. What do you make of this trend toward employee responsibility in health care?"
"This is about choice. I think one of the reasons these plans are catching on is because consumers like the idea of being able to make their own decisions. We were talking about GM. Actually consumer-driven health care is a good comparison to traditional auto insurance."
"This trend is here to stay. We're an advanced industrial society, people are living longer, which means that towards the end of life you come up with chronic diseases. We have a very modern, highly-advanced medical system. If you have the population interfacing all the time with a very advanced medical system, it's going to be expensive. It has to be rationalized. That's why this subject is now on the table."
"The reason that we have this kind of screwy system is because it is cheaper for an employer to give an employee a certain amount in health benefits -- much cheaper, in fact -- than to give them the equivalent in after-tax wages."