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Why Some CEOs Are Figuring Out That ‘Medicare For All’ Is Good For Business

| June 10, 2019

Richard Master, CEO of MCS Industries in Easton, Pa., stands in a showroom of the company's picture frames and wall decor. He says one of the biggest impediments to keeping labor costs in line has been the increasing expense of health coverage in the United States. (Phil Galewitz/KHN)

Richard Master, CEO of MCS Industries in Easton, Pa., stands in a showroom of the company’s picture frames and wall decor. He says one of the biggest impediments to keeping labor costs in line has been the increasing expense of health coverage in the United States. (Phil Galewitz/KHN)

Walk into a big-box retailer such as Walmart or Michaels and you’re likely to see MCS Industries’ picture frames, decorative mirrors or kitschy wall décor.

Adjacent to a dairy farm a few miles west of downtown Easton, MCS is the nation’s largest maker of such household products. But MCS doesn’t actually make anything here anymore. It has moved its manufacturing operations to Mexico and China, with the last manufacturing jobs departing this city along the Delaware River in 2005. MCS now has about 175 U.S. employees and 600 people overseas.

“We were going to lose the business because we were no longer competitive,” CEO Richard Master explained. And one of the biggest impediments to keeping labor costs in line, he said, has been the increasing expense of health coverage in the United States.

Today, he’s at the vanguard of a small but growing group of business executives who are lining up to support a “Medicare for All” national health program. He argues not that health care is a human right, but that covering everyone with a government plan and decoupling health care coverage from the workplace would benefit entrepreneurship.

In February, Master stood with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) outside the Capitol after she introduced her Medicare for All bill. “This bill removes an albatross from the neck of American business, puts more money in consumer products and will boost our economy,” he said.

As health costs continue to grow, straining employer budgets and slowing wage growth, others in the business community are beginning to take the option more seriously.

While the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other large business lobbying groups strongly oppose increased government involvement in health carethe resolve of many in the business community — especially among smaller firms — may be shifting.

“There is growing momentum among employers supporting single-payer,” said Dan Geiger, co-director of the Business Alliance for a Healthy California, which has sought to generate business support for a universal health care program in California. About 300 mostly small employers have signed on.

“Businesses are really angry about the system, and there is a lot of frustration with its rising costs and dysfunction,” he said.

Geiger acknowledged the effort still lacks support from any Fortune 500 company CEOs. He said large businesses are hesitant to get involved in this political debate and many don’t want to lose the ability to attract workers with generous health benefits. “There is also a lingering distrust of the government, and they think they can offer coverage better than the government,” he said.

In addition, some in the business community are hesitant to sign on to Medicare for All with many details missing, such as how much it would increase taxes, said Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer for the National Business Group on Health, a leading business group focused on health benefits.

Democrats Propel the Debate

For decades, a government-run health plan was considered too radical an idea for serious consideration. But Medicare for All has been garnering more political support in recent months, especially after a progressive wave helped Democrats take control of the House this year. Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, strongly back it.

The labor unions and consumer groups that have long endorsed a single-payer health system hope that the embrace of it by employers such as Master marks another turning point for the movement.

Supporters of the concept say the health system overall would see savings from a coordinated effort to bring down prices and the elimination of many administrative costs or insurance company profits.

“It’s critical for our success to engage employers, particularly because our current system is hurting employers almost as much as it is patients,” said Melinda St. Louis, campaign director of Medicare for All at Public Citizen, a consumer-rights group based in Washington.

Master, a former Washington lawyer, worked on Democratic Sen. George McGovern’s presidential campaign before returning to Pennsylvania in 1973 to take over his father’s company, which made rigid paper boxes. In 1980, he founded MCS, which pioneered the popular front-loading picture frame and steamless fog-free mirrors for bathrooms. The company has grown into a $250 million corporation.

Master frequently travels to Washington and around the country to talk to business leaders as he seeks to build political support for a single-payer health system.

In the past four years, he has produced several documentary videos on the topic. In 2018, he formed the Business Initiative for Health Policy, a nonprofit group of business leaders, economists and health policy experts trying to explain the financial benefits of a single-payer system.

Dan Wolf, CEO of Cape Air, a Hyannis, Mass.-based regional airline that employs 800 people calls himself “a free market guy.” But he also supports Medicare for All. He said Master helps turn the political argument over single-payer into a practical one.

“It’s about good business sense and about caring for his employees and their well-being,” he said, adding that employers should no longer be straddled with the cost and complexity of health care.

“It makes no more sense for an airline to understand health policy for the bulk of its workers than for a health facility to have to supply all the air transportation for its employees,” he said.

Employers are also an important voice in the debate because 156 million Americans get employer-paid health care, making it by far the single-largest form of coverage.

Master said his company has tried various methods to control costs with little success, including high deductibles, narrow networks of providers and wellness plans that emphasize preventive medicine.

Insurers who are supposed to negotiate lower rates from hospitals and doctors have failed, he added, and too many premium dollars go to covering administrative costs. Only by having the federal government set rates can the United States control costs of drugs, hospitals and other health services, he said.

“Insurance companies are not watching the store and don’t have incentives to hold down costs in the current system,” he said.

Glad the Boss Is Trying To Make a Difference

What’s left of MCS in Pennsylvania is a spacious corporate office building housing administrative staff, designers and a giant distribution center piled high with carton boxes from floor to ceiling.

MCS pays an average of $1,260 per month for each employee’s health care, up from $716 in 2009, the company said. In recent years, the company has reduced out-of-pocket costs for employees by covering most of their deductibles.

Medicare for All would require several new taxes to raise money, but Master said such a plan would mean savings for his company and employees.

MCS employees largely support Master’s attempt to fix the health system even if they are not all on board with a Medicare for All approach, according to interviews with several workers in Easton.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Faith Wildrick, a shipper at MCS who has worked for the company 26 years. “If the other countries are doing it and it is working for them, why can’t it work for us?”

Wildrick said that even with insurance her family struggles with health costs as her husband, Bill, a former MCS employee, deals with liver disease and needs many diagnostic tests and prescription medications. Their annual deductible has swung from $4,000 several years ago to $500 this year as the company has worked to lower employees’ out-of-pocket costs.

“I’m really glad someone is fighting for this and trying to make a difference,” said Wildrick.

Jessica Ehrhardt, the human resources manager at MCS, said the effort to reduce employees’ out-of-pocket health costs means the company must pay higher health costs. That results in less money for salary increases and other benefits, she added.

Asked about Medicare for All, Ehrhardt said, “It’s a drastic solution, but something needs to happen.”

For too long, Master said, the push for a single-payer health system has been about ideology.

“The movement has been about making health care a human right and that we have a right to universal health care,” he said. “What I am saying is this is prudent for our economy and am trying to make the business and economic case.”

–Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News

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13 Responses for “Why Some CEOs Are Figuring Out That ‘Medicare For All’ Is Good For Business”

  1. Percy's mother says:

    Who’s going to pay the monthly premium for EVERYONE for Medicare?

    It’s not free.

    PLUS, one then has to search for and PAY for a Medicare supplement.

    Again, not free.

    PLUS, it’s mandatory that one have a drug plan.

    THEN, depending on the Medicare supplement plan one chooses to PURCHASE, the out of pocket before the supplement kicks in can be up to $6000.00 or more (but can be less for a more expensive plan).

    Who’s going to pay the out of pocket?

    So, Medicare billing comes in the mail every 3 months = $406.00 plus add the supplement, plus add the mandatory drug plan whether you take pharmaceutical medications or not PLUS add if you have any medical issues and incur medical expense, the out of pocket until your deductible is met.

    So, who pays for “FREE” Medicare?

    I don’t know why everyone thinks Medicare is free, and that’s after being forced to pay into Medicare all one’s working years. Total up cost as noted above.

    And yes, Pierre, you’ve already replied to one of my similar posts about this and you said it would be cheaper than what you’re paying now. BUT you’re still working aren’t you?

    Medicare was supposedly developed to take care of senior citizens who don’t have the capability to work any longer and are on a fixed income and who don’t have the financial means to opt for something better (a private insurance plan).

    Even “Bernie” admitted that there’s NO “INITIAL COST” (being told you can have free Medicare), THE COST COMES AFTERWARDS (when you start paying all the premiums and out of pocket). . . as I’ve explained above.

    So when the politicians tell everyone they can have FREE MEDICARE, beware, it’s free until you get it.

  2. Richard says:

    Every time this subject comes up I suggest to people who really want to know how a single payer Medicare for All system works is just Google “Canadian Healthcare System” as they have had one since the 50’s – early 60’s. It started in Saskatchewan then later expanded out to the rest of the provinces. Research and read, read, and read some more. Being thoroughly educated before pontificating about such a program is only common sense. Plus 75% of all Canadians have private supplemental heath insurance in addition to their Medicare for All program. So what does THAT tell you! Plus being a federal funded program you get to pay for it through your federal income taxes and then get to pay more to purchase supplemental healthcare insurance too. Yup, pay, pay and pay some more until your bank account is gone and you are homeless. That’s the American Dream!

  3. OIF/OEF Veteran says:

    This article, as well as this initiative, is a complete joke.
    You are responsible for your own insurance and taking care of your family.
    If you can’t afford it… you don’t deserve it (in general… not in every case.)
    Yes, there are folks who truly need help… and I fought for this country to help provide that help.
    But this all boils down to individual responsibility. Too many single moms, too many dead-beat dads, too many drug addicts, too many thinking big government will take care of them.
    The culture of America is out of control… with more and more folks expecting someone else to pick up their pieces.
    I am all on board for anyone who truly needs the assistance… but there must be a strict line for who truly needs it. We could afford to truly help those who need it for a period of time; until they get back on their feet.
    But not for bums who refuse to take personal inventory and determine to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
    Medicare for all is no different than no border or climate change. It’s all a ruse to turn our great country into a socialist country.
    Not in my lifetime….

  4. Fiscal Discipline says:

    Of course private enterprise wants to shift costs to the taxpayer. Socializing costs while privatizing profits is not a sustainable economic strategy. The bill comes due — the national debt exceeds $20 trillion and continues to grow.

  5. Katie Semore says:

    @Percy’s mother: it isn’t about what it cost the individual. It is what it cost businesses, it is their bottom line they are concerned about. Once the GOP realize this, they will be happy to jump on it. If it makes more money for those at the top, and crushes those who toil for them, it matters not.

  6. jake says:

    All “Richard Master, CEO of MCS Industries in Easton, Pa.,” is doing is shifting the cost of heath care away from his company. As Percy’s Mother said, nothing is free. A socialist society is doomed to fail, continuing in this direction will be the final downfall of this country. As only 49% of the taxable public pays federal income tax to support the other 51%, this will only shift this burden more directly to them. If this does become law, health care will most certainly decline and everyone will be waiting in line for treatment. In other words, you will probably die, before seeing a specialist.

  7. Paul says:

    The company has grown into a $250 million corporation and wants a single pay Medicare for all and farms out production to oversees countries ??

    Cutting into corporate profits to provide their employees health care should not be at the expense of taxpayers.

    When will corporations stop looking to government to subsidize their corporate greed?

  8. Outsider says:

    The current Medicare system is subsidized via insured patients through those exhorbitant fees charged to insured parients. Who’s going to make up that money? Free ain’t free folks.

  9. Bernie 2020 says:

    Percy’s mother.. who said it was free? No where in the story or in the plans Sanders has does he say free. It will come out of your paycheck just like it does currently but for a higher deduction. It’s not really that hard of a concept.

  10. Alphonse Abonte says:

    Again, everytime the Government or Politicians get involved, they screw it up! Prove me wrong.

  11. Pogo says:

    @Comments here so far are sadly unsurprising.

    For those who are willing to take personal responsibility for what they believe – start here:

    medicare for all act of 2019…0.0..0.0.0…….0……gws-wiz.o_2oz6Zo79Q

    H.R.1384 – Medicare for All Act of 2019

    how to pay for medicare for all

    medicare for all explained…0.0..0.0.0…….0……gws-wiz.r1_FDaBYFF4

  12. Lin says:

    All my working life (minus a couple of yrs) I paid 15% of my income in SS and Medicare. And I paid for my own insurance privately in addition.
    Now, as Percy’s Mother says, who is going to pay for the recipients who did not pay anything into the system?
    I still, after retirement, pay income taxes and pay for supplemental insurance. All my life I’m paying and will forever.
    Yet Medicare is a “right”? There is no right to pick my pocket.
    And companies who use the enticement of “benefits” to attract workers will just have to keep doing so for those who are employees not IC’s. But raise taxes more, take away our freedom to choose our plans and doctors and cause rationing like in those countries that have institutional medical care, don’t mess with our system. The grass isn’t greener. Single payer means we would have no control. When government controls, we all suffer.
    This is just one more political pot of gold to offer. Don’t fall for it.

  13. Steadfastandloyal says:

    Nothing more than another initiative- a stepping stone toward socialism..thats the agenda period!

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