Tying things up

Well, it’s been a long week. I am happy to say that after several months the Northfield School District and teachers’ association in Northfield appear to have reached an agreement. Both sides worked hard to do right by their interests yet bend enough toward the other to make it a good agreement. It was not easy in the current political environment for both sides to find the courage to resolve differences so amicably, but we did it! Having represented the teachers’ union in every session as a negotiator and watched the agreement come together, I am very proud of the efforts made by both sides to get where we are today.

The big stickler, which still erases much of the financial increase for teachers at the top of the pay scale, is the 18.4 % increase in health insurance costs. The two sides decided to split the difference, which under the district’s present financial constraints is truly the best they could do.

The rising cost of health care and health insurance has an impact on most of us and is a huge drain on our economy. It is an issue that has been crying out for a solutions for at least 15 years, but little progress has been made because of the tremendous influence insurance and pharmaceutical companies have over policy makers. Things can’t continue as they have because many individuals and employers are paying more than they can afford for very basic coverage. Small business owners are among the worst hit, especially those who have made a commitment to offer their employees reasonably good coverage.

Yesterday I heard an MPR interview with a writer for the Economist, who commented that America’s attempt to have businesses provide what he called ‘social benefits’ was a mistake. Perhaps due to compromises between liberals and conservatives, unlike Europeans who have nationalized health plans, we have opted to have the private sector provide these through employee contracts. He cited the uncertainty of the business world and the fact that most workers no longer stay with the same job as they had historically, in part because many businesses do not survive. He did not provide an answer to providing these benefits in a different way, but suggested that we try to identify those needs that citizens expect and provide those benefits in a much more comprehensive way.

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich argues that health care and health insurance costs are the single biggest drain on our economy. He sees single payer universal health care coverage as the only solution. As a former mayor, he understands home town budgets and how small business owners struggle to make ends meet. No one works harder than the small business owners who try to make their dream a reality, but like family farmers often just get by on a very narrow profit margin or cash flow. The Center for Rural Affairs states, “Availability and cost both contribute to the fact that over 60 percent of the nations’ uninsured are from homes where the head of household is either self-employed or works for a small business…many small businesses, farms and ranches face both economic and health distress.”

As the union and district negotiators shook hands congratulating ourselves on our success at forging our agreement, we made a pledge to work on the cost of health insurance coverage issue for future agreements. But there are limits to what bargaining units and school districts can do, because it’s the insurance companies with the power in this situation.

The current administrations at the State and Federal levels are abandoning efforts to insure those who need protection the most because they have no coverage or have extraordinary needs. They seem as intent on getting Government employees to retreat from protections they bargained long and hard for over the years. That approach certainly won’t help.

Governor Pawlenty has established a commission to study the health care crisis. No one denies it is a problem. But it remains to be seen if the commission will come up with viable solutions, and even if they do, are they partisan solutions, and does this Governor have the will to make them a reality?

I noticed that Rep. Ray Cox is inviting folks to join him on Thurs. Sept. 25th, 10:00am, at Northfield’s Senior Center, located at 1651 Jefferson Parkway, to talk about health care, the news had it on Wed so you may want to call ahead to make sure 664-3700. I hope those of you who can, will attend, that you will let him know your concerns and your ideas about solutions to this growing problem.

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