Unlikely Group Forms Health, Retirement Alliance

An unusual partnership of business, labor and consumer interests has been formed to promote health care and retirement security. The Business Roundtable, Service Workers Union and AARP joined forces to push for new policies.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now the business of lobbying can make for some strange partnerships. Consider the alliance of the top retired people's lobby, a group of corporate executives, and a union for hospital and other service workers. They are all calling for universal access to affordable healthcare, and also for retirement security. NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: The nation has reached a tipping point, according to Bill Novelli, the CEO of the AARP. He says people used to count on the government, their employers and one another for healthcare and financial security in old age.

MR. BILL NOVELLI (CEO, AARP): And now that is coming apart.

SCHALCH: Now, only one-fifth of workers have traditional pension plans, he said. And only half of families save for retirement. The group called the current healthcare system unsustainable as well. John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, said healthcare not only bankrupts individuals, but is now businesses' biggest expense. It cost the nation $2 trillion last year.

Mr. JOHN CASTELLANI (President, Business Roundtable): Nearly $4,900 for every man, woman and child.

SCHALCH: And he says healthcare costs put U.S. companies at a huge competitive disadvantage in the global economy. The last big push to reform healthcare foundered in 1994, said SEIU President Andy Stern.

Mr. ANDY STERN (President, SEIU): But what really is new today is that for the first time major drivers of change are standing together, demanding action.

SCHALCH: Including, he says, big business. The groups are vowing to lobby, advertise, write op-ed articles, organize grassroots campaigns and push candidates in the 2008 elections to make affordable healthcare and retirement security a priority.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

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