I-1600: Good for Employers, good for Unions, good for Workers.
The I-1600 Initiative to the People would form a nonprofit insurance company (Whole Washington Trust) that all residents automatically participate in. At first it would be optional, but after 51% of residents are enrolled in the program, it will go statewide for all residents. The current thinking is that the Trust would take about three years to be fully operational. We expect much (huge) media opposition from the Commercial Health Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries if we get this on the ballot. However, after three years of an operational plan Workers, Employers, and Unions will be able to see the benefits for themselves, and no amount of false flag waving will distract them from that truth.
According to an economic study commissioned by Whole Washington, “In 2019, administering the third-party payer system will cost governments and businesses in Washington over $6.5 billion; lowering administrative costs to the level of traditional Medicare (1.8%) would save over $5 billion in 2019, plus another $600 million saved by employers who will no longer have to identify and administer health insurance plans.”, (Dr. Gerald Friedman 2017).
Our legislators in Washington State did a better job at implementing the ACA than in most other states, and more people in our state have health care coverage than ever. The ACA is not a viable long term solution in a profit driven health care system. Do we really want to bail out insurance companies once they crash our health care system? We shouldn’t. Let’s not go there.
We are starting to get a better picture of what makes Washington healthy and what the best returns on investment are in areas of public health. Private insurance is a business, legally entitled to some level of economic viability, but if they are taking profits from a system and not adding value, then they have not earned their keep. Clearly the amount of money Washingtonians spend on healthcare has not translated to the same life expectancy enjoyed across the border in British Columbia.
Whole Washington would like to see our state finish the job that the ACA started: provide universal statewide health coverage to all Washington citizens. Universal Healthcare would decrease total expenses for employers, allow workers expansion to full time hours, and simplify contract negotiations for unions. It would also stimulate the local economy.
Employers who offer benefits now pay on average 12% or more of payroll to provide employee health plans. Health plans are proportionately more costly for small businesses that provide health coverage, which pay closer to 20% of payroll in benefits. Under the Whole Washington Trust that cost would shift into a payroll tax (yes I said the scary ‘T’ word), but that would be at just 8.5%, with some employees pay exemptions annually. So yes, money goes to the government to fund social infrastructure instead of going to for-profit insurance companies, but employers keep more money than without the state plan, and it turns out that the money they get to keep is still money. This is what happens in most of the world where healthcare is considered a human right.
The cost of administering and negotiating benefit plans with insurance companies is upwards of 0.03% of payroll costs for large employers. Removing the burden of administering health benefits from employers also removes a financial incentive to discriminate against workers with greater needs for medical coverage. Hiring full time employees, or people with ill dependents, older (more experienced) workers or people with chronic health problems would not mean an increased financial risk for the company.
Is it any wonder that Unions in Washington State are coming out in support of I-1600? Union members are people who take pride in real world skills that keep society functional. They get it about Infrastructure; it’s what they do.
Universal Healthcare means collective bargaining agreements can put more focus on Wages and Retirement. A healthy workforce bargains from a position of strength.
Unions struggle with membership to explain why bargaining goes into overtime around benefit restructuring. Lost hours at work and an overall decline in productivity can be the result of lengthy contract negotiations.
While wages and salaries are straightforward negotiation points, changes in medical benefit coverage tend to be felt later on by employees as actual lived experience. When workers begin to get hit with new “cost sharing” deductibles and copays they may feel a sense of both dissatisfaction with their employer and a sense of betrayal by their union for not getting them a better deal.
It is a destabilizing force in our state economy, when underinsured people must work more than one part-time job to support a family because their employer(s) can not afford to hire full time workers.
If an employer has two equally qualified job candidates, it is an unpleasant truth that the hire without children is ultimately less expensive. Even after the ACA, many working families are one critical illness away from homelessness.
In the less densely populated parts of our state some Washingtonians have restricted access to healthcare because their insurance networks have moved away to more profitable locations.
Our greatest asset in this state is our people. Imagine all of the entrepreneurial ideas that are being repressed. People with families may feel “locked in” to jobs to continue their current benefits, yet those benefits are not secure if radically restructured during any new benefit “enrollment period”. During this period of uncertainty for the ACA, as mergers and acquisitions between companies occur, or as provider networks completely disappear from an area, workers have little recourse to a remedy if their elected officials will not fight for them. I-1600 is being brought as an Initiative to the People, because Whole Washington believes that workers need a voice.
In a Washington with Universal Health Coverage, Artists and Entrepreneurs will have more freedom to create vibrant local economies. The state economy will benefit on both sides of the mountains. Small businesses will be able to hire full time employees and grow, family businesses will thrive, no one will become homeless or destitute or because of medical expenses… Over 500,000 uninsured Washingtonians would gain coverage!
We are grassroots coalition of healthcare professionals, activists and organizers. We are not going to let the work our state did on the ACA disappear; instead we want to build on it. Whole Washington’s Initiative to the People is I-1600.