The DeStefano/Slifka campaign hit the road this week, with appearances in West Hartford, Hartford and now at Wal-Mart stores in the capital city and Stratford, where DeStefano touted his universal health care plan. From the press release:
John DeStefano – Democratic candidate for governor – joined Wal-Mart employees and local elected officials at news conferences in front of Wal-Mart stores in Stratford and Hartford, to demand Wal-Mart and - companies like it - do more to ensure its employees have access to affordable health care. Each year in Connecticut Wal-Mart tops the list in sending taxpayers the bill for their employees’ health care coverage. More than 800 Wal-Mart employees, and 1,600 children, received taxpayer sponsored health care coverage in 2004, costing taxpayers more than $5.5 million.
“I believe it’s wrong that companies like Wal-Mart don’t share in the responsibility of providing affordable health care to their employees,” said DeStefano. “My universal health care plan would force companies like Wal-Mart to either provide quality health care for their employees or lose their state tax benefits. Taxpayers spend millions each year to cover health care for Wal-Mart workers, and that’s not fair to tax payers or the employees.”
Rosa Sota, who works at the Wal-Mart in New Britain, said “They (Wal-Mart) can afford to provide better health insurance. Employees have complained but they don’t listen. We just want to be treated fairly.” (DeStefano)
This is part of a problem that cropped up last year, which involved Wal-Mart and other companies with stingy health care practices all but forcing workers on to the HUSKY program, or leaving them without insurance altogether. It's easy to attack Wal-Mart during an election year, but the problem DeStefano highlights is very, very real.
Universal health care is necessary. Our current insurance-based system has never really worked for low-income workers, as illustrated by the plight of Wal-Mart workers and others, and health care is quickly becoming too expensive for the middle class, as well. All citizens should have access to quality health services that are free at point of care, just as all citizens have access to public education.
I'm not so sure this is the best way to go about it. In essence, DeStefano's plan would let businesses either opt out of paying all or most of their corporate taxes in return for providing health care to employees through a state-run health consortium. There are holes here. For instance, companies could in fact decide not to join this health care consortium. Wal-Mart might decide that it would be better for it to either pay the full state taxes or withdraw entirely from Connecticut rather than pay for better insurance for its workers. Other companies might feel the same.
Small businesses will be pinched either way. Either pay a hefty tax or pay for health care. Neither solution is particularly appealing.
It begs the question: why are employers responsible for providing health care? In other countries government takes on this responsibility. We Americans deeply distrust our government, but have little to no control over private industry--except through regulations passed by our government! So why not eliminate the middle man, and make government directly responsible?
I will give DeStefano an awful lot of credit for trying to find a solution to this problem. Neither Malloy nor Rell is proposing anything so sweeping. I wonder if Connecticut is ready for it, though.
"DeStefano: Wal-Mart should stop passing the buck on healthcare." Press Release. DeStefano for Connecticut. 31 May, 2006.