Seven reasons single-payer health care will be great for Vermont business

By Bram Kleppner
Burlington Free Press, Sept. 15, 2011

One: Quality. Our health care system doesn’t produce very good health. Of the world’s 33 developed countries, the United States ranks near the bottom in health indicators like infant death, death that could have been prevented by proper health care, and life expectancy. From North America to Europe to the Middle East to Asia, people in countries with single-payer systems are consistently healthier than Americans.

Healthy workers do better work at lower cost than unhealthy workers. A single-payer system will provide Vermont companies with healthier workers.

Two: Hard costs. Judging by other single-payer systems around the world, going to single-payer should cut our health care costs roughly in half.

The report to the Vermont legislature recommended paying for single-payer with an 11 percent payroll tax. The legislature does not seem enthusiastic about this, and I expect we will end up with a combination of smaller taxes on payroll, income, and/or sales. However, even if we fund the system entirely with an 11 percent payroll tax, our small Vermont company would still have lower costs than under the current system; over the last five years, Danforth Pewter’s health care costs have averaged over 15 percent of payroll.

Three: Soft costs. How much time do you personally waste dealing with your health insurance every year? Multiply that across every employee in Vermont. Add the time everyone spends at benefits meetings trying to figure out the latest changes to their insurance. Add the additional time that the HR people at every Vermont company waste on health insurance administration every year.

Now imagine all that going away.

Four: Sales. Consumers will benefit directly from the lower costs of a single-payer system through much lower out-of-pocket expenses, and every dollar a consumer doesn’t spend on health care is a dollar he or she can spend on something more pleasant. Since Vermonters spend a big portion of their discretionary dollars on local goods and services, Vermont companies will see higher sales.

Five: Privacy. We’ve been getting our health insurance through our jobs so long that we’ve become used to having our companies know all about our private health status, but companies and employees will both be happier when we’re not forced into this uncomfortable intimacy.

Six: Freedom. You probably know people who dream of starting their own businesses, or joining their spouse’s business, but who can’t quit their day jobs because they need the health insurance. Imagine the boon to the economy if all those people become free to unleash their entrepreneurial passion. Imagine the great new products and services that they will create. Imagine how much happier those people will be working for themselves in a business they care about.

This will be good for Vermont business because first, some of those new products and services will help us run our businesses better; and second, honestly, we don’t want people around who are just punching the clock to get health insurance. Make it easy to go, and some of the dead wood will clear itself out.

Seven: Employment. Employees, companies and the economy will all benefit from another aspect of single-payer health care. If we remove the cost of health care from the cost of hiring a new employee, it becomes a lot easier to hire. Companies will be quicker to hire when they’re growing, and quicker to rehire when the economy starts recovering from recession.

With single-payer, Vermonters get better health, lower costs, more privacy, more freedom, a better economy and more jobs. Vermont companies get healthier and more motivated workers, a more flexible labor market, a better economy, lower costs, and more sales.

That sounds like good business to me.

Bram Kleppner is chief executive officer of Danforth Pewter in Middlebury.