In what is being viewed as a groundbreaking announcement the head of Wal-Mart is joining the heads of other major corporations and the head of the Service Employees Union to announce a push for universal healthcare:
They have established one of the fiercest rivalries in the American economy, attacking one another’s organizations through dueling blogs, newspaper advertisements and news conferences.
But this morning, in an extraordinary meeting in Washington, the chiefs of Wal-Mart Stores and the Service Employees International Union will stand together and agree on a series of goals for achieving universal health coverage, according to people briefed on the matter.
The two men might even shake hands.
The meeting between H. Lee Scott Jr., the chief executive of Wal-Mart, and Andrew L. Stern, president of the S.E.I.U., which caps months of secret conversations, could be the beginning, however tentative, of a détente between the nation’s largest employer and its labor critics.
At least on one issue. But the issue — providing affordable health insurance — is arguably the biggest facing both Mr. Stern and Mr. Scott. Wal-Mart, which insures fewer than half its workers, has identified health care as potentially the biggest vulnerability to its image and business, and the S.E.I.U., one of the country’s biggest unions, has called it the No. 1 priority for its members.
So during today’s meeting, Mr. Stern and Mr. Scott will announce a campaign to seek public acceptance of several principles of health policy. One goal is universal health coverage by a specific date, somewhere around 2012. Another is the idea of shared responsibility, emphasizing that individuals, businesses and government all play roles in financing health care and expanding coverage.
This is good news. If Wal-Mart gets involved seriously in this effort, it will happen.
Update: From the Wall Street Journal here is the opening statement signed by all who participated:
America's health care system is broken. The traditional employer-based model of coverage in its current form is endangered without substantial reform to our health care system. It is being crushed by out of control costs, the pressures of the global economy, and the large and growing number of uninsured. Soaring health costs threaten workers' livelihoods and companies' competitiveness, and undermine the security that individuals of a prosperous nation should enjoy. We can only solve these problems -- and deliver health care that is high quality, affordable, accessible and secure -- if business, government, labor, the health care delivery system and the nonprofit sector work together.
Specifically, the four principles are:
1. We believe every person in America must have quality, affordable health insurance coverage;
2. We believe individuals have a responsibility to maintain and protect their health;
3. We believe that America must dramatically improve the value it receives for every health care dollar; and,
4. We believe that businesses, governments, and individuals all should contribute to managing and financing a new American health care system.
In their followup statements all participants agreed that the current system is broke. Said Intel Chief Craig Barrett:
The U.S. healthcare system delivers results below international norms at high cost, and consumers and industry suffer the consequences.I wish I had a nickel for everytime I hear someone say, in opposition to universal healthcare, "we have the best healthcare in the world." It isn't true.