The U.S. healthcare system has made the pharmaceutical and insurance industries obscenely wealthy — at everybody else’s expense. A recent Yale study concluded that a universal, single-payer insurance system would save $450 billion and 68,000 lives every year. More than half of Americans support the policy and want to eliminate the private insurance industry, and Bernie Sanders has made it a key policy position. There is a very real possibility that in four years, the U.S. will have a universal public health care system.
Oberlin College leadership and the Board of Trustees have taken a different approach. After decades of mismanagement and rising costs of operation and staffing — in no small part due to the rapidly inflating cost of healthcare — the AAPR final report recommended cutting Oberlin’s budget by an annual $6.2 million. We are beginning to see how administration will be implementing those recommendations.
Displacing unionized workers is not simply about cutting wages, it is also about getting rid of healthcare benefits. The College spends over $5 million a year to pay for the healthcare of its hourly staff. President Ambar has said that the recently threatened layoffs would save up to $2 million; it is likely that this is only the beginning of cuts for employees and students.
Oberlin spends a total of $12.7 million a year on health insurance for current and former employees. If the U.S. had Medicare for All, Oberlin College would pay $0, saving $12.7 million a year. This would positively eliminate the current deficit, freeing millions to the things that make Oberlin what it is: academic programs, financial aid, CDS, OSCA, and the living and working conditions of every hourly worker.
Medicare for All would not only save workers’ jobs, but give them liberties that they have been denied for decades. The American health insurance system keeps workers tethered to their jobs, slows wage growth, and limits the bargaining power of unions. Just this year, General Motors cut health benefits to striking UAW members, threatening their health and safety in order to break the strike. Medicare for All would give workers across this country the power to strike without fear of losing their health insurance, and would let them fight for better wages without sacrificing benefits.
Both the College and the country face an uncertain future — we must rise to this challenge by strengthening society, not weakening it. The U.S. healthcare system must be made to serve working people, not billionaire CEOs and shareholders. Likewise, Oberlin College must serve its communities of students and workers who make it unique, not make secretive accounting decisions that upend the lives of its employees.