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A large employer ‘frames’ the Medicare-for-all debate


 

. — Walk into a big-box retailer such as Walmart or Michaels and you’re likely to see MCS Industries’ picture frames, decorative mirrors, or kitschy wall décor.

Adjacent to a dairy farm a few miles west of downtown Easton, MCS is the nation’s largest maker of such household products. But MCS doesn’t actually make anything here anymore. It has moved its manufacturing operations to Mexico and China, with the last manufacturing jobs departing this city along the Delaware River in 2005. MCS now has about 175 U.S. employees and 600 people overseas.

“We were going to lose the business because we were no longer competitive,” CEO Richard Master explained. And one of the biggest impediments to keeping labor costs in line, he said, has been the increasing expense of health coverage in the United States.

Today, he’s at the vanguard of a small but growing group of business executives who are lining up to support a Medicare-for-all national health program. He argues not that health care is a human right but that covering everyone with a government plan and decoupling health care coverage from the workplace would benefit entrepreneurship.

In February, Master stood with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) outside the Capitol after she introduced her Medicare-for-all bill. “This bill removes an albatross from the neck of American business, puts more money in consumer products and will boost our economy,” he said.

As health costs continue to grow, straining employer budgets and slowing wage growth, others in the business community are beginning to take the option more seriously.

While the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other large business lobbying groups strongly oppose increased government involvement in health care, the resolve of many in the business community – especially among smaller firms – may be shifting.

“There is growing momentum among employers supporting single-payer,” said Dan Geiger, codirector of the Business Alliance for a Healthy California, which has sought to generate business support for a universal health care program in California. About 300 mostly small employers have signed on.

“Businesses are really angry about the system, and there is a lot of frustration with its rising costs and dysfunction,” he said.

Mr. Geiger acknowledged the effort still lacks support from any Fortune 500 company CEOs. He said large businesses are hesitant to get involved in this political debate and many don’t want to lose the ability to attract workers with generous health benefits. “There is also a lingering distrust of the government, and they think they can offer coverage better than the government,” he said.

In addition, some in the business community are hesitant to sign on to Medicare-for-all with many details missing, such as how much it would increase taxes, said Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer for the National Business Group on Health, a leading business group focused on health benefits.

Democrats propel the debate

For decades, a government-run health plan was considered too radical an idea for serious consideration. But Medicare-for-all has been garnering more political support in recent months, especially after a progressive wave helped Democrats take control of the House this year. Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, strongly back it.

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