ShareThis Page
Home

Kerry addresses health care costs

| Tuesday, May 11, 2004

ERIE, Pa. (AP) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry opened a four-state tour addressing the nation's health care problems Monday, starting with Pennsylvania, which has more than 1 million uninsured residents.

While Pennsylvania still has the 15th lowest rate of uninsured, based on the most recent Census data, state officials say those statistics are outdated. The Pennsylvania Insurance Department has launched a new study to determine who is uninsured and why.

The cost of health insurance last year surpassed the traditional bogeyman of business taxes as the top concern of business owners, according to a recent survey by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which has about 10,000 members.

"This is our No. 1 legislative priority for 2004," said Lesley Smith, spokeswoman for the group.

Business owners and the chamber say soaring health insurance costs have had a direct impact on hiring decisions and may be keeping unemployment unnaturally high even though business has begun to pick up.

At Erie Sports Store, a family business that opened more than 50 years ago, employees have always been offered health coverage. But owner Rich Weber said rising costs are a problem.

"I would have to say it (health-care costs) is our top concern when considering hiring for full-time positions," Weber said. "I think it is just not talked about that much. For some small businesses, there is nothing bigger; and at some level for all business, it is hurting employment because you just can't hire."

There are 1.38 million in Pennsylvania who do not have health insurance, according to the Census, with some of the highest rates in northwestern Pennsylvania, where Kerry spoke yesterday and not far from Weber's two sports stores and warehouse.

On the other end of the state, Philadelphia is well above the state average of 11.9 percent who told the state Health Department that they have no insurance. Of the 1,434 people surveyed, 16.3 percent said they did not have any coverage.

The counties in northcentral Pennsylvania have an uninsured rate of 17.4 percent, the worst in the state, according to the Health Department survey.

The Census found that between 2000 and 2002, the percentage of people in Pennsylvania without insurance climbed from 9.2 percent to 11.3 percent; the national average rose from 14.6 to 15.2 percent.

"Here in the Erie area, you're seeing plants close down that provided good jobs and it is happening all across America -- jobs rushing overseas, good jobs and quality health care for their employees disappearing," Kerry said.

Kerry said he would force the federal government to negotiate for cheaper prescription drugs and reduce inefficiencies that he says have buried doctors and patients in paperwork.

Yet a number of business owners said they feared increased government involvement in health care would increase their costs.

Syst-A-Matic Tool and Design nearly went bankrupt several years ago as companies shifted work overseas and insurance costs rose. Bill Hills, president of the company, cut his staff from 60 to 25, where it remains today.

He said tax cuts have helped, but government involvement in health care would make it worse.

"That's the problem with this economy," he said. "We are getting the business but we aren't getting the backlog we need before we start hiring. The cost of health care is out of control."

Those costs have been passed to employees, according to the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Last year, 37 percent of members responding to a survey said they had increased the share paid by employees for health care. This year, that figure is up to 46.2 percent, according to the chamber.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me