By Bob Keener
For stability and growth, our market economy needs laws and regulations to foster broad-based prosperity and long-term resilience — in a word, sustainability. Now more than ever, business leaders must stand together and tell lawmakers that “what business wants” are policies that fully account for any enterprise’s costs (or “externalities”) to people and our planet. Here are three important policy initiatives for business to support now:
1. Support single-payer healthcare
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has greatly increased the number of Americans with health insurance, but millions are still uninsured, at serious cost to productivity and public health.
Costs to business of the inefficient U.S. system have increased 250 percent over the last 15 years. Republicans’ recent alternative, the American Health Care Act, would have insured fewer Americans while giving more money directly to insurance companies and drug manufacturers; another idea would remove essential Obamacare provisions like coverage for preexisting conditions.
To stop both ever-escalating costs and de facto rationing, we need single-payer healthcare.
What’s at stake: Health insurance companies are enormously profitable and politically powerful, and our current system increases their profits at most other companies’ expense. More than 20 percent of the premiums employers pay insurance companies — $300 million to 400 million every year — is wasted on administrative costs.
Single-payer healthcare — publicly financed but privately delivered — would streamline the system, efficiently improve healthcare for all Americans, and save billions of dollars through negotiated prices and reduced waste.
What you can do: With health insurance costs to business at 18 percent of GDP, it’s time policymakers hear from firms outside the insurance industry. Business Leaders Transforming Healthcare offers business a voice for reform. Sign up and see how your business can support a transparent, evidence-based healthcare system that works.
2. Defend smart regulations
The Donald Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress are joining old-line lobbyists to kill regulations that protect our environment, our workplace safety and our financial system’s integrity — ironically, in the name of “accountability.” With pro-corporation Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, responsible businesses are at even greater risk.
What’s at stake: Smart regulations now under fire are essential to our market economy. ASBC board chair Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, recently testified before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship that companies want smart regulations (view video). These rules keep big firms from foisting their costs onto smaller companies and taxpayers, let the market choose winners fairly, reward healthy innovation, and give companies of all sizes a chance to grow.
What you can do: Lobbyists find it useful to push the idea that all businesses hate all regulation; and policymakers seldom question that stereotype. Let government know that broadly-shared prosperity, our market economy and democracy itself depend on fair regulation. Join fellow business leaders to oppose the so-called Regulatory Accountability Act.
3. Encourage pay equity
The Equal Pay Law of 1963 made it illegal to pay women lower rates than men for the same job. At that time, women were paid 59 percent of men’s wages. By 2000, women were still paid only 74 percent of men’s wages (even less for women of color).
The 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act prohibited gender-based discrimination and let women fight back regardless of when workplace discrimination began. But in 2017, women still must work an average of 16 months to earn what the average white man is paid in 12 months.
What’s at stake: Progress, always slow, is threatened outright today. In March 2017, President Trump pulled back the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order put in place by President Barack Obama to protect women on the job.
And the usual organizations have tried to retard progress in the name of business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently asked the White House Office of Management and Budget to block last year’s EEOC initiative to collect pay data on employees by race and gender, an important diagnostic that helps enforce laws against pay discrimination and helps employers self-evaluate for workforce pay gaps.
Business support for pay equity policy is essential to level the playing field for ethical companies as well as for valuable workers.
What you can do: Stay alert to attacks on progress and meanwhile, take action: Endorse these Principles of High Road Employers to show your support for equal pay and other high-road business practices.
Image credit: Flickr/Roman Boed
Bob Keener is Deputy Director of Public Relations for the American Sustainable Business Council.