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Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal

Business fed up with health care, survey says

by Troy May
Dec 21, 2001

Vol. 19, No. 34
Employers in California say the health care system has become too complicated and costly, and drastic measures must be taken to make the system work, according to a recent survey sponsored by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.

Businesses surveyed favor universal health care, blame HMOs for problems in the current system, and claim the health-care bureaucracy is worsening.

The survey represents the beginning of a statewide initiative by several non-profit organizations to heal a wounded health-care delivery system.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights conducted the first of three scheduled surveys in October and November. Results were released December 17.

Employees at one local company that participated in the survey have become especially frustrated with the health care system, with physicians dropping out of networks, premiums rising and claims not getting paid.

Cat Technologies, a 48-employee firm in Los Gatos, has seen local physicians drop out of medical networks and premiums climb 30 percent, or an additional $3,000 a month.

"The system is getting more complex and frustrating for everybody," says Amy Hanlon, human resources director for Cat Technologies. "I don1t know where to place the blame, but it's very frustrating for all employers, and something has to be done."

The Survey was done in partnership with the California Nurses Association, the California Medical Association and the American Small Business Alliance. The CNA and CMA plan to survey their members this coming spring.

In the initial effort, 79.5 percent of business claimed HMOs were responsible for problems in the current health-care system, and 58.7 percent supported universal coverage.

Top-of-mind for businesses were health insurance premiums: More than 92 percent of those surveyed complained about premium increases this year.

As for the health-care bureaucracy, 66 percent said it had become worse in the past four years.

The surveys' objective is to gather opinions on health care from various segments of the populations to stimulate a statewide dialogue among health-care professionals, government leaders, employers and consumers to create solutions for problems within the system.

"We believe there is disenchantment with the medical system, and if we reach out to employers, together we can improve the system," says Jamie Court, executive direction for the foundation. "The first step to approach businesses on this issue is to find out what they think."

Since employers supply about 23 percent of the $2.4 trillion annual national health care expenditure, they represent a critical constituency in soling health-care problems, say observers.

"As the biggest purchasers of health coverage, business are really the final piece of the universal health-care puzzle," says Sara Nichols, legislative director for the California Nurses Association.

Adds Steve Thompson, vice president of the California Medical Association: "The business response represents a real concern over California's health-care system, and should form the basis for a coalition moving together to resolve problems."

Organizations involved in the non-profits' effort plan to launch a series of town-hall meetings across the state next spring.

The first meeting is expected to be in San Francisco, but a date has not been scheduled, Mr. Court says.