Sikorsky example of out of control healthcare

The recent strike at Sikorsky Aircraft highlights the fact that Connecticut has reached a critical juncture. Sikorsky's workers are striking not because of a wage dispute, but because of the rising cost of healthcare in our state. This underscores the important reality that jobs and healthcare are inextricably intertwined. While we need to keep businesses like Sikorsky in Connecticut, people in our state also need to have adequate healthcare coverage for themselves and their families. The million-dollar question is, "how do we accomplish both goals?"

We need to craft a comprehensive solution that appreciates the interrelationship between jobs, the economy and healthcare, not simply to continue on our present course of applying band-aids to the current system. While the focus of this legislative session is on making Connecticut more economically competitive, there is no global vision of how we keep businesses here and provide adequate healthcare for all of our citizens.

The relationship between jobs, the economy and healthcare is more complex than the common refrain that neither businesses, workers nor their families can afford the cost of healthcare anymore. Over a period of years, healthcare costs have outpaced inflation by 315 percent. Years ago, the private sector (employers) paid a share of the costs, government paid a share and private individuals paid a small share. As the cost of healthcare has risen, the private sector has paid less in order to keep their businesses viable, private individuals have not been able to afford to pay more of the share and, as a result, the government has had to shoulder a greater share of the cost. For a while that was workable. Over the past few years, however, our state healthcare costs have become so large that the state has had no choice but to start cutting back on its payments, for example, in the form of Medicaid reimbursement rates. As the rates continue to fail to keep up with the rapid rise of the cost, many providers are closing their doors, leaving more people without adequate access to healthcare services. While this may sound obvious, what isn't obvious is what this is doing to our economy.

Within a decade, $1 out of every $5 spent in the U.S. economy will go for healthcare. Healthcare spending accounts for 16.2 percent of the economy with projections to rise to 20 percent by 2015. One in seven jobs is in the healthcare field. As the cost of healthcare rises and government cannot keep up, providers will go out of business causing many people to lose their jobs, which in turn causes more people to be without health insurance, raising the costs even higher. This trend can only have a significant negative impact on our economy and there are few cost-control measures likely to change that trend.

How did we get into this healthcare mess? The healthcare system we have today is an outgrowth of our history. After World War II, employers granted health benefits to their employees as a way to circumvent wage and price freezes. What started out as an added benefit is now, as we can see from the Sikorsky strike, the driving force in the employer/employee relationship. Most employers do not have the luxury of shopping for health benefits based on the quality of care; businesses choose their health plans on the basis of cost and benefit. Over time, both our businesses and our healthcare suffer.

Our goal must be to provide the best healthcare to all of our citizens at an affordable price and grow our economy. In order to do that, we may need to rethink the employer based healthcare system. Can we continue to tinker with the existing system and expect to arrive at a day when every person in our state has access to quality, affordable healthcare? As we work to tackle this problem, one thing is clear: our employer based system of healthcare is broken and it is time to fix it, for the sake of our economy, our jobs and most importantly, our health. It won't happen overnight, but I look forward to working with you and my colleagues in Hartford to reach our goal.

State Sen. Gayle Slossberg represents the 14th Senatoral District which includes Orange.