Digging into Energy, Exports and Health Care

By March 13, 2007Energy, Health Care, Trade

Catching up on our reading about the Albertan oil sands (voluminous coverage in Popular Mechanics), we happened upon stories about Bucyrus International, a Milwaukee-based manufacturer of draglines, drills and shovels. New machine sales at the company were up 39 percent in the last quarter, thanks to booming coal operations here and abroad (China) and the Canadian oil sands developments.

We checked with the good people at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and discovered that U.S. exports of construction machinery to Canada rose 23 percent last year, from $4.1 billion to $5 billion. Wow. That’s a lot of wealth and good jobs being created thanks to manufacturing and energy development, here and north of the border. (Thanks, NAFTA!)

Turns out that Bucyrus is doing well in another area, health-care reform. A columnist in the Journal-Sentinel reported that the company has adopted an aggressive, consumer-oriented health care plan to bring costs under control.

Its other heavy lifting is an unprecedented agreement between labor and management to go with a mandatory consumer-driven health plan. “There is only one plan” for all employees, CEO Tim Sullivan said. That’s a high deductible plan, set at $1,800, with an offsetting health savings account.

Unions have been slow to get aboard the reform movement that centers on the employee as a consumer, although that’s starting to change. Calumet County adopted a mandatory plan for its five locals, and several unionized private companies in the state persuaded their people to go with voluntary consumer plans.

Bucyrus’ leadership brought Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to town to talk about what’s called value-driven health care. Coverage of Leavitt’s visit is here.

In conjunction with Leavitt’s visit, Milwaukee-area business leaders, many from manufacturing companies, signed up for a new initiative to promote quality health care through transparency and expanded use of health information technology, the hallmarks of “value-driven” health care. As a news release from the local pilot project, the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality, reports:

The executives pledged to provide quality and price information about doctors, hospitals and other medical providers for all enrollees in their health care insurance programs. This information will help employees choose health care providers based on the quality of care they deliver and the prices they charge.

In addition, the employers will support health information technology by encouraging the use of recognized interoperability standards in the health IT products used by their health plans. They also pledged to develop incentives for achieving better value in health care, including incentives for high quality care and for more active involvement by employees in choosing their health care services.

Leavitt talked extensively about the Administration’s emphasis on value-driven health care in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club in January.

And yes, it’s all tied together: Development of fossil fuels, free trade, manufacturing and employee health care. Pull one of those blocks out, and the structure starts to topple.