January 20, 2009
Health Care Reform Takes Center Stage for 2009 Proxy Season
by Robert Kropp
Shareowner advocates at ICCR and other faith-based organizations detail progress in engaging
corporations on the adoption of health care reform principles.
Access to affordable, comprehensive health care insurance is one of the most significant social
policy issues in America today. Nearly 46 million Americans, or 18 percent of the population under
the age of 65, were without health insurance in 2007.
According to the National Coalition on Health Care, the nation's
largest alliance working to improve America's health care, "Most Americans have health insurance
through their employers. But, employment is no longer a guarantee of health insurance coverage."
Manufacturing industries, traditionally a stronghold of health insurance coverage for employees,
are shedding jobs. Because of increasing reliance on part-time and contract workers, fewer workers
have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. And many small employers cannot afford to offer
52% of the members of the Business Roundtable, which represents more than
150 of the country's largest companies, say health care costs represent their biggest financial
The Obama administration promises "affordable, accessible health care for all
Americans, built on the existing health care system, using existing providers, doctors, and plans."
Obama's proposed health care plan requires employers to contribute to workers’ health care
insurance and offers small businesses a refundable tax credit of up to 50% on premiums paid by
business for employees.
The nearly 300 socially responsible institutional investors at the
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
(ICCR), a faith-based coalition representing over $100 billion in invested capital, view 2009
as a year with potential for a breakthrough in health care reform. ICCR and others in the SRI
community have urged America's corporations to adopt and publicly embrace principles for health
care reform, and by January 2009 the number of corporations that have done so has increased to more
The principles for health care reform were formulated by the Institute of
Medicine's Committee on the Consequences of Uninsurance in a January 2004 report, which called upon
Congress and the president to provide coverage for everyone in the country by 2010. The principles
advocate universal and continuous health care coverage that is affordable for individuals and
families, and affordable and sustainable for society as well. Health insurance should enhance
health and well-being by promoting access to high-quality care that is effective, efficient, safe,
timely, patient-centered and equitable.
The corporations that have publicly endorsed the
principles for health care reform include Starbucks, Wal-mart and General Electric.
Sponsoring shareowner resolutions and engaging in dialogue with corporate management are two of
the methods used by ICCR and other socially responsible shareowner groups to change the way
companies conduct themselves as good corporate citizens, and on the issue of health care reform
their strategy is no different. In the 2009 proxy season, the number of shareowner resolutions
addressing health care reform at major corporations will rise to 26 from 12 in 2008.
targets of shareowner resolutions include such corporations as American Express, Ford, Qualcomm,
Staples and Verizon. A typical resolution asserts that "the 45.7 million Americans without health
insurance result in higher costs for US companies providing health insurance to their employees."
Furthermore, "Increasing health care costs lead companies to shift costs to employees.
This can reduce employee productivity, health and morale. (Shareowners) also believe rising health
care costs borne by the company have an adverse affect on shareholder value."
At a press
conference on health care reform hosted by ICCR and held on January 14, Rev. David Schilling,
program director for human rights at ICCR, said, "ICCR and other faith-based investors have a
history of being ahead of the curve on such important issues as climate change and subprime
predatory lending practices. The crisis in health care is a social issue that is negatively
impacting business. Health care reform is a moral and a financial issue. It is good for society and
good for business."
Cathy Rowan, SRI consultant representing American Baptist Home Mission Society and Trinity Health, said, "Shareholder and
public interest are very much aligned on the subject of health care reform. We hope to see
representatives of corporations in attendance when Barack Obama signs into law a health care reform
Sister Barbara Aires, coordinator of corporate responsibility for the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, detailed the
precarious financial positions of all but a few hospitals. "We believe that access to affordable
health care is a fundamental human right," she said. "We have been witnesses to a health care
delivery system that has been unequal and dysfunctional for many years, not only for the people but
for the economic fabric of our country. Health care consumes far too much of the Gross National
"Corporations can play a crucial and positive role in the reform of the health
care system. That is why we have used our investments to engage them."
director of shareholder activities at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, said, "Because the issue of
health care impacts corporate profits, we as shareholders want to be sure that the companies we
invest in are positioning themselves in ways that are beneficial to themselves, to their employees,
and to society. Corporations ignore the health care reform movement at their own peril. Adoption of
the health care reform principles helps corporations position themselves to influence the outcome
of this policy debate."