U.S. automakers back health care plan


For America’s automakers, supporting a set of national health care standards that aims to lower costs and improve the quality of health care won’t solve all of their problems. But they say it represents several small steps in the right direction. Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp. chairman and chief executive; Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group; and Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., joined U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt at a Detroit Economic Club meeting Monday to support his department’s Value-Driven Health Care initiative. By signing on to the plan, automakers pledged to provide quality and price information about doctors, hospitals and other medical providers for all employees in their health care insurance programs. The plan also calls on them to encourage the use of electronic medical records and develop incentives for those who buy or provide high-quality, competitively priced care. “Is it going to mean that health care costs are no longer the single biggest fixed cost in the car-making business? Not a chance,” said DaimlerChrysler spokesman David Elshoff. “But can it reduce the trend, or … can we do something about the rate of inflation? Possibly.” None of the automakers could say how much money adopting the federal standards would save. But GM spokeswoman Michelle Bunker said joining the effort is important nonetheless. “These (standards) fundamentally fix part of the broken system that we’re dealing with,” she said. “You have providers, the government and the public all speaking a common language.” Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said signing on helps the automaker strike a necessary balance.