Crossing the Line Over Health Care As a Right
By Scott Holleran
October 16, 2003
Southern California's largest grocery strike in
25 years offers a clear example of opposing ideas in action; the
labor dispute is a fundamental conflict over whether health
insurance should be financed by those who want insuranceor by
those who hire those who want insurance. It's plainly a strike for
health care as a right.
And the strike is spreading, to the benefits
argument fueling the Los Angeles bus mechanics' strike, to the
threat of a strike by L.A. County Sheriff officers, and to grocery
unions in Ohio, West Virginia, and Missouri. As Greg Denier, a
grocery union spokesman for 1.4 million workers nationwide, told
Reuters: "Los Angeles is the epicenter of this and it's a fight for
health care nationwide."
In essence, the debate is a confrontation between
those who favorand those who refuse to providesomething for
nothing. The union demands that workers pay nothing, not one penny,
for their own health insurance. The grocery stores, like most
employers, are no longer willing to pay 100 percent of each
employee's rising health insurance premiums; grocers insist that
workers start paying five dollars a week for an individual policy or
fifteen dollars a week for a family plan.
If you are self-employed, you know how much
health insurance really costs because you are among the few
who actually pay their own way through today's mixed,
half-socialized health care system. If you work for a small
business, you're likely to pay for most of your own health care
costs and premiums. If you work for a major employer, your paycheck
is probably smaller due to some health care withholding. In any
case, co-pays, costs and premiums are rising.
Health expenditures have been escalating for
years, but employers have typically resisted holding workers
accountable to the higher prices. With the nation at war, California
deeply in debt, the economy mixed, and every realistic economic
analyst forecasting even higher health costs, America's struggling
employers are finally accepting reality and acknowledging the limits
of employer-based, cradle-to grave health care coverage. It took
businesses 30 years to admit that HMOs neither cut costs nor offer
the best health care and they are now realizing that health
insurance, like auto, home and life insurance, must bear some
relation to the individualthat the insured must pay for the
Yet L.A.'s striking grocery employees have
declared, by a 97 percent vote, that they are born with a right to
health carepracticed by the doctor and funded by the business
that hired them.
Workers are also demanding pay raises like 45
cents per hour, per year, and so forth, with non-union places like
Wal-Mart cutting into grocery chain profits. In short, striking
workers want more money while their employer is making less money
and they want health care paid by the employer, too.
Those who believe that each person is primarily
responsible for his or her own health care, and that any benefits
are extended at the discretion of the business, which has no moral
obligation to pay for anything but the cost of doing businesswhich may include covering part of workers' health costsought to
shop at Vons, Pavilions, Albertson's and Ralphs.
Those who believe each person is born with a
right to force others to pay for their own needs, such as health
care, are free to sanction the strike. It's the union's right to
strikeand it is the customer's right to refuse to
sanction the strike. But L.A.'s grocery strike offers a stark
contrast between socialism, which is based upon dependence on
others, and capitalism, which is based upon self-reliance and
independence. For anyone who believes in personal responsibility,
that makes crossing the picket line a strikingly clear choice.
Scott Holleran is a freelance writer in California.
Copyright © 2003 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.
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