Healthcare reform may finally be on the way. With Democrats controllling Congress and both political parties gearing up for a presidential election, the issue is moving to the fore. What's more, American business is also pushing the issue, with both big and small companies getting involved.
Health insurance expenses are the fastest growing cost component for employers, according to a McKinsey and Company study. Since 2000, premiums have increased 87%, compared to cumulative inflation of 18%.
U.S. health care spending is projected to reach $2.9 trillion in 2009. Healthcare in the U.S. consumes far more of the nation's GDP, for instance, than other G7 nations such as Germany, France and Canada. Yet at the same time, about 47 million Americans --roughly one out of six -- are uninsured, which is priced into the system.
The bottom line is that a largely private sector-based healthcare system is not cheaper than a government funded one and it certainly is not an egalitarian one. .
In Britain, for instance, 11% of a taxpayer's income to a certain level, goes directly to National Health System. Private plans also exist, but they're considered supplemental.
The U.S. healthcare system is a drag on corporate profits, national competitiveness and government budgets.
Given that backdrop, there's a growing sense that some form of universal health care system is needed, regardless of where the money comes from. Who pays is indeed another -- and equally complicated -- question.
Business, which supplies 60% of the nation's healthcare, is ready to back reform efforts. No national plan has yet to emerge, but states such as Massachusetts and California are making progress.
There's no shortage of opinions out there, either, but it's part of a constructive dialog.
Take Robert Crandall, former chairman and CEO of AMR, the parent company of American Airlines, for example.
"I want to put everyone on Medicare," Crandall recently told CNBC. Medicare works."
Crandall says Medicare, the federal government's health insurance program -- which covers about 40 million Americans, most of whom are 65 years of age and older -- has administrative costs that are 20% that of private health insurance.
"You save billions of dollars on administrative cost." says Crandall. "If we fund Medicare properly, we'd have a very satisfactory system. "
CNBC undertook an indepth series, "Healing Healthcare", to look at what business and government are doing to address the problem. Here's a roundup of Bertha Coombs' reports.