While the front pages of U.S. and business newspapers are featuring the story of the health-cost hampered Big (and increasingly smaller) 3 automakers looking for a mega-loan, most employers still want to play a key role in the U.S. health system.

It’s the legacy of providing health care benefits to the ever-growing list of retirees from GM, Ford and Chrysler that’s crippling the industry. That, and a few other issues — among them, drivers’ preferences for gas-efficient, stylish and high performing cars. Simply put, lots of Americans prefer autos built overseas.
Beyond the auto manufacturers, though, a new survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans finds that most employers do not want to move away from an employer-based system of health insurance.

  • 64% of employers believe that employer-based health care should continue to be the primary mechanism for benefits delivery
  • Only 1 in 4 employers see the current employer-based approach should be replaced with a government-sponsored national health care system
  • 20% of employers support replacing the current health care system with universal coverage purchased by individuals.

Most employers do want a nationwide approach to health care, with only 28% seeing that states should drive health change versus the Federal government. Still, there are mixed feelings about mandating employer-sponsored coverage, with only 43% agreeing with this tack.

While only 11% of employers surveyed offer consumer-directed health plans, a “consumerism approach” is widely seen as a useful strategy for managing costs over the next two years. Consumerism will probably be coupled with health and wellness initiatives that target reducing health costs among employees.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Just as we have seen a split in the philosophical underpinnings of American voters’ approaches to health reform — see Health Populi’s post from the 2008 election season, The Health Care Rift Between Republicans and Democrats — employers, too, are in two camps regarding the structure of health reform.

As one of those who’ve watched the slow-cooking past efforts toward changing the structure of health care financing and delivery in the U.S. — and given the current sorry state of the macroeconomy — employers who “can” will continue to sponsor health plans for the next couple of years.

“Employers who can” depends on company profitability per employee, and clearly many companies whose good fortunes are based on consumer purchases could become compromised in their ability to provide health insurance. Milliman, the actuarial firm, calculates that the average cost of health care for a family of four in 2009 will be $17,310. This will over-burden companies in many consumer-facing industries — beyond automakers, consumer goods companies, retailers, home appliance manufacturers, and others from a large number of SIC codes.

RIP Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz

As a postscript, RIP to my old mentor at Sinai Hospital in Detroit Michigan, Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz. This brilliant innovator is pictured in the photo to the right of Dr. Barnard and Dr. DeBakey. He was a pioneer in developing artificial heart devices and performed the first heart transplant in a baby. The child survived for only six-and-a-half hours, but Dr. Kantrowitz blazed the path for Drs. Barnard and Debakey to refine and master the heart transplant methods we take for granted today.

One of my jobs in the surgical research lab was to take care of the beloved Erdey, one of the miniature yucatan swine pigs that was used in the research for implanting LVADs — Dr. Kantrowitz’s patented left-ventricular assisted device. Dr. Kantrowitz had countless patents for devices that aided the heart for lengthening life and enhancing the quality of people’s lives.

“Miniature yucatan swines?” you ask. Their skin physiology is very similar to humans, so the percutaneous implanting of the devices could compare with human patients. I miss Erdey. But I won’t have to miss Dr. Kantrowitz as his rich legacy remains and sustains life in this world.