Detroit gets serious about health insurance

A physician assistant of family medicine wears a stethoscope.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Health care costs are putting the squeeze on Detroit's Big Three automakers, and the prospect of union retirees losing their health insurance is worrying the United Auto Workers. That joint headache has put a previously radical idea for fixing the problem on the table. Here's Marketplace's Steve Tripoli:


STEVE TRIPOLI: So here's the deal that's being discussed: Carmakers throw a giant chunk of cash into a trust fund. The workers get health insurance security, the Big Three get a cap on future costs they couldn't predict.

University of Notre Dame economist Teresa Ghilarducci calls it a win for both sides.

TERESA GHILARDUCCI: It provides, maybe not maximum monetary gain, but it provides something that they want more, which is some stability and predictability.

These funds are called VEBA trusts. Ghilarducci's a trustee for one of them.

GM, Ford and Goodyear Tire already have limited VEBAs. Ghilarducci says Chrysler's buyout by private equity could spawn more and bigger funds. Maybe even a giant VEBA covering all of the Big Three and the UAW.

GHILARDUCCI: Every single Big Three company will have a VEBA, but this round of negotiations, the UAW probably won't achieve a multi-employer, common fund.

But that's what they'll keep pushing for, Ghilarducci says.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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