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Home > Opinion-Editorials: 2003
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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 insurance—or 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 favor—and those who refuse to provide—something 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 individual—that the insured must pay for the insurance.

Yet L.A.'s striking grocery employees have declared, by a 97 percent vote, that they are born with a right to health care—practiced 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 business—which may include covering part of workers' health costs—ought 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 strike—and 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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