On Senate Adjournment and Health Care

Dome IA State CapitolBIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— In her remarks before adjournment sine die of the first session of the 85th Iowa General Assembly, Senate President Pam Jochum made a statement that included the following, “the biggest challenge of this session was how to help Iowans who, despite working every day, still cannot afford health insurance.”

The Iowa Senate addressed the issue in Senate File 446, the health and human services budget, which was 60+ pages and reported from the conference committee late yesterday. Some house members wanted to read the bill before voting, and were concerned that there would be time. It was difficult determining the status of things in the wee hours of this morning, but the house adjourned until 9 a.m. this morning, giving legislators time to pull an all-nighter and read the bill.

At the warehouse where I work with some of the same people Senator Jochum referred to in her statement, there is neither a health care plan provided, nor is there adequate pay to enable workers to buy a health insurance policy. This forces employees to seek medical care in their social networks and on the open market, and is at the core of the problem SF 446 seeks to address. Like it or not, business interests drive dependence on programs like Medicaid.

It is unclear by how many layers temp jobs like mine get outsourced: at least two or three. The job is organizationally far removed from the parent company that ultimately buys our labor. American business, in its global footprint, bankruptcy declarations and restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and increased outsourcing, successfully stripped away the part of employee compensation related to providing health care, while improving productivity and decreasing the cost of labor.

For a single person, buying private health insurance can cost $350 per month or more. For a family of two, a monthly premium can be more than $800. Do the math. At an hourly wage of $9.25, with limited overtime, and no paid holidays, disability insurance or sick leave, a person can expect to earn just short of $18,000 per year, taking home about $15,000. There is no room in the budget for health insurance.

Why do people take jobs like mine? Regardless of the social commentary about living wages, minimum wages, prevailing wages, and general working conditions, the money is green at outsourced jobs, and people need it to help get by. There appears to be no shortage of people willing to work slightly above minimum wage, without benefits.

My co-workers have no time to worry about getting sick, or about how to pay for health care. The presumption is any illness will get treatment in one’s social network, with a visit to a clinic, emergency room or doctor’s office being the last resort. Whatever the Iowa government does with the Senate’s health and human services budget, it will be a band aid on a problem that wants a better solution— one that lies more in the global business community and with workers than with government.

We’ll see the Iowa house reaction to the senate bill today. Presumably the conference committee had support for the bill before reporting it out of committee. Here’s hoping the legislative band-aid does some good if and when it is signed into law.

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