INDUSTRY/POLICY: It’s 1990 again, and the autos want a solution for health care

Back in 1990 when I first got into this health care policy stuff a guy called Walter Maher was going around saying that we needed a government single payer system. Nothing too unusual in that other than Maher was head of public policy at Chrysler. He was saying it because Chrysler and the other autos, with their unionized and older work-force and pensioners, were locked into paying very high health care costs. When they did the math they noticed that a Canadian-style single payer system paid for out of general taxation would be cheaper for them. Of course during the 1992-4 debate on the subject, the rest of Corporate America took Chrysler out to the woodshed and little was heard from Maher after that.  And of course managed care was going to fix it all, and the market was going to work.  By then anyway the 90s boom was on and the Japanese competition was running into trouble and Detroit (aided by some little known tariffs on Japanese light trucks) was making a fortune out of minivans and SUVs (which are trucks not cars, really!), and saving a fortune by sending jobs to Mexico.

However, there’s to be a sequel to the movie, given that the autos are not seeing the boom days continue, but health care premiums are. Like all good sequels, we’re now going to see a rehash of the first movie. This time it’s Ford stepping up to the plate, and putting a senior executive in charge of solving their health care cost crisis. Listen to the complaint from Ford:

    The automaker spends about $1,200 on employee and retiree health care for every vehicle it builds, a huge cost that private employers don’t bear in countries with government-funded medical care.

That was written last week, whereas in 1990 you would have read this:

    "Health care adds $700 to the price of every American-made automobile,” stated Walter Maher, spokesman for Chrysler Corporation, at meetings of National Small Business United and the National Health Forum. Besides, the existence of the uninsured is an "offense to his social conscience.” His solution: let the government pay the bill, while placing tough controls on expenditures.

I don’t know why Ford is bothering to have its own investigation.  Surely Chrysler can send over the draft of Maher’s old speeches. All they have to do is double the numbers and the job’s done.

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