'Outraged' Over Health Insurance: Gannett Should Get Real Instead

NUVO | October 13, 2004
A common complaint is that too many people working in the media are out of touch with reality in these United States. If you tend to agree with that notion, then get a load of this …

Last week a letter dated Sept. 30 and signed Anonymous was delivered to NUVO. It informed us that a "Spousal Insurance Surcharge" is being instituted by Gannett Newspapers, the colossal national newspaper chain that includes USA Today and, here in Indianapolis, The Indianapolis Star and INtake.

Anonymous stated that this surcharge would cost some employees an additional $150 a month, or $1,800 a year. This surcharge will apply only to employees whose spouses already have access to medical benefits with their own employers. Employees, in other words, who have access to not one, but two health insurance packages. "On a local level," the letter said, "employees at The Indianapolis Star are outraged."

The letter informed us that it was being sent to "other media venues, law offices and civil liberties organizations, as well as to select government officials." It complained about the discrimination that this surcharge created among Gannett employees and suggested that employees who don’t accept medical benefits through Gannett would now, in effect, be receiving a bonus of $1,800 a year. The letter closed, "This is just the beginning of something that is more likely to grow into an all out battle than to fizzle and burn out quietly. The first step is to get the message out … after all, could this be your problem next?"

Well, let me tell you, Anonymous, health coverage here at NUVO and at small to medium size businesses all over America has been a problem for years. In fact, at NUVO, we opted in favor of medical savings accounts two years ago. That was because the cost of conventional insurance, which continued to go up year after year, had become prohibitive.

Anyone who has worked for a small to medium-size employer has seen the same thing happen — watched as they were required to change insurance companies from one year to the next as premiums jumped — and observed how just dealing with employee health benefits has become a virtual full-time job in itself.

Since Gannett and The Star are supposedly news-gathering organizations, their employees are probably aware of this, but it doesn’t hurt to note that the costs of health insurance for workers across America have increased 36 percent since 2000. Meanwhile, the number of workers receiving health coverage through an employer has dropped to 61 percent in the last three years, meaning that 5 million fewer jobs provide health benefits at all. For the past four years, Americans have seen double-digit increases in health insurance premiums. The price for a family of four is now nearly $10,000, according to numbers provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As the Gannett workers are finding out, even big employers are being hit by out-of-control health insurance costs. According to Consumer Reports, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the second largest purchaser of health care after the federal government, is now looking at a 25 percent increase for basic HMO contracts and a 19 to 22 percent increase for preferred-provider options for its 1.3 million employees and retirees.

And then there are all those Americans, 45 million and counting, who have been getting by with no health insurance at all. It is chilling to note that a recent study by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine has found that as many as 18,000 people a year die prematurely as a result of being uninsured.

Yet, this year, giant health insurer Aetna has announced an 11 percent profit for the first quarter. The Wall Street Journal reports that Aetna has managed to increase its profitability by dropping unprofitable contracts, raising premiums and negotiating for lower costs. All this means it now insures 8 million fewer people.

There’s a mountain of evidence demonstrating that things don’t have to go on this way. The New England Journal of Medicine has found that 31 percent of the cost of our health care is eaten up by administrative costs. In Canada, which has a universal, single-payer policy, that number is 16.7 percent. But maybe you think these costs provide us with the "best" health care in the world. There are 21 countries with longer life expectancies than we have here. In those countries, the average cost of health care per person is $2,230. In the U.S. that cost is $4,540.

In 2002, our General Accounting Office projected that the elimination of private insurance bills and administrative waste could produce administrative savings of 10 percent, or $150 billion. That bastion of socialist radicalism, the Congressional Budget Office, has projected that if we adopted a single-payer policy we could reduce overall health costs by $225 billion — while offering comprehensive care to all Americans.

Anonymous included a copy of the letter Gannett sent to its employees announcing its insurance surcharge. This letter began, "The news about health care costs just seems to get worse … Until the medical community fixes the problem of runaway costs, we will continue to be as frustrated as you about the high price of health care."

One of the biggest media conglomerates in the world is "frustrated" about the high price of health care? Instead of wringing their hands or being "outraged" about the cost of their health insurance, maybe it’s time for these media communicators to take a stand. Maybe it’s time for Gannett newspapers to do something that would benefit all of us: Become this nation’s biggest advocate for single-payer, universal health care.


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