Through the years, there have been many issues where labor and business don't see eye to eye. Here's one where we firmly agree: the need to fix healthcare, now, not in spite of the economic crisis, but because of it. For this reason, we are proud to stand together with President Obama as he reinforces the urgency of health care reform in the State of the Union speech before Congress.
America's economic recovery depends upon solving the healthcare emergency that is bankrupting families and eroding our competitiveness in the global economy. Bringing healthcare security to every American will help jump-start the nation's recovery and provide a foundation for new economic opportunity, innovation and job growth.
The evaporation of nearly 600,000 jobs in January alone makes the need for healthcare reform more urgent than ever. Each one percent rise in the national unemployment rate strands a million more people without health insurance. Even for many of the employed, healthcare costs are outpacing income and forcing hard choices, such as taking care of a family's health or keeping a roof over its head.
President Obama is firm in his resolve to create a fair and sustainable healthcare system and millions of Americans stand behind his vision. Congress must take swift action to enact comprehensive healthcare reform today.
Taking the right steps to reform and rebuild our healthcare system--now--will put us on the road to a healthier, economically robust America. There are rapid gains to be made. America loses an estimated $207 billion every year due to the poorer health and shorter lifespans of those lacking good coverage. Another $1.3 trillion is lost through easily preventable and treatable chronic conditions, such as hypertension, asthma and heart disease. Right now, we spend only four cents of every healthcare dollar on prevention and public health, opening the gates for the most expensive chronic diseases, and paying heavily for the inevitable results.
Solving our healthcare crisis will do more than help rebuild this economy. It will set the stage for the next. Our teaching hospitals and medical centers educate and train the world's most advanced healthcare workforce, accounting for one out of every ten jobs in the United States. A comprehensive approach to healthcare reform will remedy workforce shortages, spur innovation, and add new job opportunities in areas such as prevention, wellness and home-based care. Helping Americans stay healthy will pay off now and for generations to come. For example, reducing deaths from cancer or heart disease by just one percent--readily attainable through universal coverage--would be invaluable on a human level and worth nearly $500 billion to current and future Americans.
With so much at stake, we must begin the work today to create a new healthcare system that:
- Provides affordable, comprehensive coverage for every man, woman, and child in America
- Builds on the strong foundation of employer-based coverage
- Encourages continued innovation in prevention, wellness, and disease treatment, and
- Lowers overall costs, and increases the value of each healthcare dollar spent.
At this critical moment for our nation--with jobs eroding month by month--we can no longer afford a system that costs way too much, excludes too many people, and fails to meet the most essential need of American families--staying healthy.
A new healthcare system is within our reach. With the future of our economy and the future of the American dream at risk, there's no more time to lose. We can change healthcare from what it is now--a quagmire of expense and frustration--to what we know it can become--a source of greater health, innovation and opportunity.
Andy Stern is President of the Service Employees International Union, North America's largest and fastest-growing union.
Jeff Kindler is Chairman and CEO of Pfizer, the nation's largest research-based biopharmaceutical company.