This sounds good and all, but….

The governor, a bunch of California CEOs and some lawmakers aligned themselves outside the Capitol this morning – squinting, sweating and soaking up cancerous sun rays – and showing how excited they are to fight for health care reform.

It’s Safeway CEO Steve Burd’s Jet-Setting CEO Show. Earlier this week, he was in Washington D.C. promoting the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform. (Here’s a San Diego Union-Tribune story about Burd and his coalition).

Joining him today was Del Monte Foods, BumbleBee Foods, Long’s Drug Stores and a smattering of other big businesses. Altogether, nearly 40 corporations – including a number of insurers (except Blue Cross) have signed on with Burd to campaign for health reform.

First thing’s first. We’re glad that after years and years of fighting and disagreeing with us, California’s deep-pocketed CEOs, agree that we need to fix health care and make sure people can lead healthier lives, and get the health care they need, when they need it.

We appreciate that one of the coalitions core tenets is “Financial Assistance for Low-Income Individuals” and encouraging healthier lifestyles. We’re all for that.

But (you knew there had to be a “but”) I want to quibble with a few of their assertions and kvetch a bit.

First, Burd said “25% of the uninsured have the financial wherewithal to pay for insurance.’’
I’m not sure where he gets his numbers.

Judging from the latest California Health Interview Survey, if everyone who is currently uninsured and made more than $50,000 a year purchased health care, we could cross off 18%. That’s significantly below the “quarter of the uninsured’’ that Burd talks about. And we can’t really assume that all 18% can afford coverage. A number of those are families who have children. A family, with an income of $50,000 in Oakland, is unlikely to be able to afford health coverage. Backing out the families with kids, we’re down to 14%.

Secondly, many of speakers referenced the role that individual responsibility plays in leading healthy lifestyles. In particular, the CEO of Del Monte Foods talked about nutritious eating to ensure that people live longer.

I think that’s a fabulous idea — but since when is canned fruit (steeped in sugar) a health food? Del Monte’s pear halves contain more than twice as many carbohydrates and nearly twice the calories as the same fresh piece of fruit (I’m an obsessive calorie counter). Of course – canned fruits are also less expensive – which will be part of my point.

Really, though, the point these CEOs are trying to make is that diabetes, heart disease, asthma and obesity (the biggest cost drivers in health care) are easily preventable if people take responsibility and take care of themselves. That means exercising, taking your meds, seeing the doctor when you’re supposed to, etc.

First off, a lot of what determines whether or not you get one of these chronic diseases is genetics. So, if I could have chosen a father who doesn’t have heart disease and diabetes (my father is 130 pounds, a tennis player and hiker, NOT overweight), that would have been the best way for me to exercise prevention.

But many people are able to manage their diseases with healthier living…

….That assumes, though, that struggling families, who are considered middle-income, have time after working two jobs to exercise.

…That assumes that you can afford to buy or rent a house far from the carbon-spewing industrial areas, further from the freeway, away from fields where they are spraying pesticides (or even away from Fresno, where Bay Area smog rolls in)

…That assumes that you can afford fresh fruits and vegetables, not ones preserved in cans.

…That assumes that your neighborhood is safe enough for your children to actively play in the streets, and walk to school.

…That assumes that you can afford the regimen of drugs, inhalers and follow up visits that are required to manage your disease.

(** Note: while plans say they cover 100% of “preventive” care,
they don’t mean managing chronic diseases, although covering chronic disease is a new “phenomenon” that is written about in this WSJ article that I blogged about yesterday)

If CEOs are going to insist on individual responsibility, the other pieces (government and employer and corporate responsibility) need to be a piece of the solution too.

I was disappointed that Burd didn’t come out and definitively say — as he has in the past — that an employer mandate is necessary and 4% contribution from employers is too low. This is an important point because without being in an employer-pool, workers making $15 an hour ($30,000 a year) would have to go out and buy insurance on their own at exhorbitant rates.

Again, I do appreciate that big business is pushing health reform and annoying some of their smaller compatriots.

But loosely saying that “the market” should be allowed to work, when it hasn’t been controlled thus far, is no longer enough. Emergency rooms are packed to the gills and sick people are dying because they can’t get in.

We’ve been talking about health reform for decades, it’s time to get specific and move forward.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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