Big Three CEOs Seek Health Care Relief From Bush

November 15, 2006
The CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler met Tuesday, November 14, with President Bush in a long-delayed talk to address concerns regarding health care costs and other issues facing the beleaguered U.S. auto giants.

Big Three CEOs Tom LaSorda of DaimlerChrysler’s U.S.-based Chrysler Group, Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Co. and Rick Wagoner of General Motors outlined in a joint statement for the president "the serious competitive disadvantage that upwardly spiraling health care costs are placing on our industry and America’s manufacturing base."

They did not bring specific requests to the meeting, which was originally scheduled for May and was repeatedly postponed. Wagoner has been among the more vocal CEOs regarding the threat that health care costs borne by employers poses to the competitiveness of the auto industry and American business in general.

In the meeting, Wagoner reiterated his company’s support for greater health care technology. GM, the country’s largest private purchaser of health care, has supported employer-led efforts to reduce hospital and physician errors. Like Bush, Wagoner supports efforts to provide individuals more consumer-oriented tools to shop for health care.

The CEOs said they "expressed support for--and an interest in greater involvement in--several administration proposals such as advancing information technology usage and the recent initiative to increase price and outcome transparency."

The goals were outlined by President Bush in an executive order in August. The order said federal agencies would use their purchasing power to make information technology and pricing transparency more prominent in health care.

The statement went on to say: "With support from the private sector, our government can exercise its power both as the largest purchaser of health care and as a policymaker to stabilize costs, reduce errors and provide consumers the cost and performance information they need to make informed health care decisions. Also, we asked specifically for a greater focus on improving the quality of care for those with serious illnesses or chronic diseases—the 1 percent of the population that makes up 30 percent of the nation’s overall health care bill."

All three automakers spend more money on health care than they do on steel. Last year, GM spent $5.3 billion on health care for more than 1 million people including employees, retirees and their dependents. Ford announced this month that it would end health care benefits for its retirees age 65 or older beginning in 2008, a move Chrysler plans to implement in 2007.

--Jeremy Smerd