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Health-Care Economics Behind Strikes

October 16, 2003

Re "Rising Health-Care Costs at Heart of Labor Strife," Oct. 14: Health-care costs may be at the heart of the current labor unrest, but your article fails to place the blame where it belongs -- the health plans themselves. The nation's biggest health plans are recording record profits. Wellpoint's profits were up 64% at the end of 2002; Aetna's, this year, were up 28% for the second quarter.

Wall Street analysts and company executives alike cited rising prices and declining costs as the major factor. Wellpoint's own Web site attributes much of its second-quarter performance to its "disciplined focus on pricing" resulting in "higher operating margins." At the same time, on the provider side we have the spectacle of hospital companies like Tenet being brought up on multiple fraud charges for alleged kickback schemes and other financial malfeasance.

The health-care system is broken and nobody wants to fix it. Rather than putting a heavier burden on the backs of the workers least able to afford it, we need to rein in the greed of an industry that is restrained neither by market discipline nor effective regulation.

Charles Schwartz

Los Angeles

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Though I don't intend to cross any picket lines, I do think that the striking grocery store workers need a reality check. Their wages are extraordinary for unskilled labor, and their benefits are outstanding. Unemployment levels are climbing and the cost of health-care coverage is reaching crisis proportions. If the employees have to pay $5 per week for individual health insurance, they're still way ahead of most people. I'm no financial guru, but even I know that the grocery stores have been greatly affected by the proliferation of the big-box stores like Costco.

Kathy Smith

Torrance

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Supermarket employees (some being paid just over minimum wage) have been told these are tough competitive times and that they have to make sacrifices to keep their jobs. If times are so tough, I wonder how many sacrifices the grocery chain executives are being asked to make.

Marcy Brown

Los Angeles

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