Declaring that business leaders are the key to his campaign to solve the commonwealth's health-care crisis, Gov. Rendell has hit the road.
Riding the state tour bus, "Commonwealth One," Rendell plans 10 days of meetings with business groups and visits to hospitals "that are setting a cost-cutting example," said his press secretary, Kate Philips.
According to the state, health-insurance premiums in Pennsylvania rose 75.6 percent between 2000 and 2006, while inflation increased 17 percent and the median wage rose only 13.3 percent.
"We can't go on like this," Rendell told an audience here last week at the start of the tour. His first business audience was assembled by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, in a program that will be broadcast at 10 p.m. Feb. 22 on public television station WHYY.
Joseph A. Frick, chief executive officer of insurer Independence Blue Cross and chairman of the chamber's board of directors, was in the Philadelphia audience. He said in an interview that "the time is right" for the governor to take on the problem. He praised Rendell for creating an inclusive process for crafting solutions to the complex problem.
The governor pledged to work with lawmakers, business leaders, health-care professionals, hospital executives and others. "It's not going to be our way or the highway," Rendell said.
But the estimated 100,000 businesses that currently do not offer health insurance to their employees would pay a "fair share" tax to subsidize Pennsylvania's program. Details of how the 3 percent payroll tax would be applied have not been released.
The broad plan he is now selling would subsidize coverage to currently uninsured Pennsylvanians and reduce the cost of delivering health care.
Infections that patients acquire while in the hospital cost $3.5 billion a year in Pennsylvania, at a time when Europe and Asian countries have reduced the problem. Another $1.7 billion could be saved by better management of chronic health problems.
He also seeks to change state laws to let nurses and other licensed professionals "do the work they were trained to do" that is now being done at greater cost only by doctors.
State government has kept its health-insurance premiums stable for two years by, among other things, encouraging overweight employees to diet, Rendell said. This diet program, the hoagie-loving governor acknowledged to laughter, has not yet been effective at the highest levels of state government.