Health-care premiums for businesses have jumped more than 10 percent in each of the past four years, putting medical costs front and center in the presidential race. So what impact will proposals from Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush have on health-care costs for the plastics industry?
The campaigns take very different approaches: Kerry advocates a much broader and more expensive program that would cover 27 million uninsured Americans, while Bush favors a more modest approach that would cover about 7 million currently uninsured people.
Bush's plan includes several ideas favored by the business community, such as association health plans, expanded health savings accounts and medical liability reform.
While Kerry's plan makes some in the business community nervous, he does offer ideas that the campaign says would lower insurance costs for employers, such as having the government pick up 75 percent of the cost of catastrophic care over $50,000 and letting businesses buy into the federal government's health plan.
Plastics processors, like other manufacturers, say they are feeling the squeeze from premiums rising much faster than inflation.
Troy Nix, executive director of the Mid-America Plastics Processors trade association in Indianapolis, said 20 percent of MAPP member companies reported that their medical costs rose 16-25 percent this year, while about 45 percent experienced increases of 6-15 percent.
MAPP, which does an annual survey of members' health plans, said companies are making employees pay more, and about 25 percent of them said they considered dropping coverage this year and giving employees a lump sum to handle health care.
``I would imagine in the future if we can't curb costs, we're going to see companies move in this direction,'' Nix said. ``They're going to put it on the employee's shoulder.''
Bush's plans probably would do more to contain costs than Kerry's proposals, although it's tough to evaluate the proposals because some of them are vague, said Susan Relland, health policy legal counsel for the American Benefits Council, a business-backed group in Washington.
Bush's approach is ``fairly incremental,'' while Kerry is signaling plans for broad reforms that could prove challenging to get through Congress, she said: ``Regardless of whether they are good [ideas] or not, it would be very difficult politically to pass broad reforms.''
Relland's group has been supportive of a key part of Bush's platform, expanding health savings accounts, because the plan is designed to hold down costs and get consumers more engaged in the costs.
Others, like the AFL-CIO, argue that Kerry's plan would contain costs better by getting more people into large group plans like the federal government system. Bush's tax credits and health savings account proposals are too modest to help most working families, the union said.
Plastics industry groups like MAPP and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington tout association health plans, another part of Bush's proposals. Supporters of that politically touchy idea say it would reduce employer costs by letting trade groups pool members across state lines to strike better deals for health coverage.
The plans from the two candidates have starkly different price tags: Kerry's would cost the government between $650 billion and $1.5 trillion over 10 years, while Bush's would cost about $130 billion, according to an analysis from the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
The National Association of Manufacturers favors the Bush plan because it is ``quite comparable to the NAM plan,'' according to Neil Trautwein, NAM's assistant vice president for human resources policy.
``At a time when employers are struggling with the rising cost of health coverage, we can't afford to be shackled or face the cost of additional mandates.''
But another analyst said neither candidate is really tackling the thorny question of how to tame the significant increases in health-care costs.
``What you mostly see in the candidates' proposals, underline mostly, are proposals to help employers and people afford health-insurance coverage, but not steps that really can be expected to have a very significant impact on the underlying rate of increase in health-care costs,'' said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-policy research group.
Those increases have been steep: the Menlo Park, Calif.-based Kaiser Family Foundation said earlier this month that employer-sponsored health-care costs rose 11 percent this year, after rising 14 percent in 2003. The cost of health insurance has risen 59 percent since 2000, while wages have gone up only 12 percent, according to the Kaiser report.