How the Big Three Automakers Could Test Better Health Care

By Randy Woodley 11-19-2008

I am a follower of Jesus. As such, I understand God to have a special concern for the poor and marginalized of society. That is why I advocate for the righteousness of a national health care plan that serves as a safety net for everyone.

I am also a Native American. We have a semblance of such a plan; it is called Indian Health Service (IHS) and it came to us in exchange for giving up our lands. It works very well in some places and not so well in others depending primarily on location, management, and funding.

During this financial crisis we can reverse the old adage from 'Lil Abner and at least admit that right now, what's bad for General Motors is bad for the USA. The Big 3 automakers are in deep trouble, and one of their greatest stresses (SUVs aside) is the fact that their competition does not have to include health care for their employees. Why? Those countries all have national health care programs while Detroit spends over 100 billion on employee health care annually.

What if Ford, GM, and Chrysler used their group buying power and made a shift to providing primary health care at its facilities while creating a hybrid emergency and hospitalization program, more akin to an emergency fund/insurance? For those who want to continue with their personal physicians they would simply pay a higher deductible and co-pay.

Imagine the place where you work supplying preventative health care education, a spa/exercise center, and a health clinic (including dental, pharmacy, eye care, etc.) all on site. Urban neighborhoods have created successful health cooperatives with meager funds, so think what would be available to construct such a program by these giant corporations. In doing so, the automakers could serve as a case study for a national health care system for everyone.

We could learn much from them about administration, people's preferences over time, and the benefits of health education and preventative health care. Heck, since they already have a seniority system in place, they could even credit points for hours spent at prevention classes, recovery groups, and exercise. We need to start somewhere. Why not begin with the large corporations who have an incentive to find alternative ways of saving money? The Big 3 would only benefit by creating a successful program because it would save them billions and create healthier, and hopefully happier, employees.

Randy WoodleyRev. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian teacher, lecturer, poet, activist, pastor, and the author of Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity
(InterVarsity Press).

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