Friday, June 19, 2009


We are about to engage in a national debate in the USA on healthcare. The lines are drawn between universal or private healthcare and now the fight will begin. While we all agree on some fundamentals such as the USA has one of the highest quality systems in the world with many of the advances in medicine developed in this country; costs are out of control; insurance companies have too much control over care; and too many people are without insurance coverage and therefore getting sub-optimal care. This is a great start on things to agree upon, instead we focus on the areas of disagreement and just keep arguing while the costs keep going higher.

I am no healthcare expert but I have recently had this argument become personal. I retired two years ago and one of my " benefits" at the company was retiree healthcare. I paid for my benefits but was able to buy them through the company plan. That company has filed for bankruptcy and is selling off the businesses. I recently learned that when the last sale is complete, they will cancel the health plan. The result is that all retirees of this company will be without health insurance. I have begun to check other available plans, including a great group Freelancers Union that offers group insurance to the growing number of independent contractors or self employed individuals (approx. 30% in the USA). The cost is substantially higher than the company plan. The more I learn about this, the more I realize how devastating this could be for lower income people with a family to support.

So why am I writing about this, other than to whine? Why is the title of this post referring to leadership, commitment and conflict resolution?

Let's start with leadership and commitment. When companies hire, promote and reward employees, we refer to the entire compensation and benefits package. Many companies work hard to get employees to evaluate and value the entire package, not just the cash compensation. If that is the case, then they should not be able to walk away from their obligations on some of the benefits. As the baby boomers hit retirement age in even greater numbers, retiree benefits including health benefits will become an even bigger issue for companies.

Now let us address conflict resolution. This issue is too big and affects too many people to fall into the black hole of never ending political grandstanding. We need real solutions. Let's focus on areas that we might be able to resolve. One is clearly expanding benefits to the poor. The other is how do we bridge the gaps of employer provided health care as more people change jobs more frequently and what to do about retiree benefits when the company is struggling financially. There are many ways to solve the problem. An example might be that companies will have to fund these plans the same way they fund retirement plans.

Let's clearly articulate the problems we are trying to resolve; the things we agree on; and the pros and cons of various resolutions to the problems. Then a real dialogue can begin. In a word, we need real leadership to solve these complex problems.

Until Next Time,

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