As the political debate rages over government-mandated, health-care reform, there is one fundamental fact that all parties agree on: Health-care insurance is a necessity for everyone and there must be a way to make it available in a cost-effective manner without adding to the already huge federal budget deficit. The only solution is to engage the private sector and legislate meaningful tort reform.

Meaningful Health-Care Reform Requires Private-Sector Help

The latest data indicates nearly 46 million people in the U.S. have no health-care insurance—about 18% of the population under age 65—and 30% of all insurance premiums go to pay for the cost of assisting those people. When considering what careers to embark upon and what companies to work for, individuals place health-care benefits near the top of the list of requirements. This is a problem for the construction industry in that large numbers of firms offer no benefits and have harsh and dangerous working conditions in the field.

Only the union sector has across-the-board collective-bargaining requirements where employers make hourly contributions to health and welfare funds on behalf of union workers. The nonunion sector goes every which way on the issue: Some very responsible firms offer a full package of benefits that meet or even exceed the union offerings. Some offer slim benefits or none at all. And some smaller firms, especially those in the single-family residential market, shirk even the most basic responsibilities of an employer by engaging workers as “independent contractors.”

All workers and their dependents should be covered by some form of health-care insurance as a national social and economic policy. But government should not provide these benefits because it is notoriously inefficient in executing business functions. Such a program should be fashioned along the lines of mandated auto liability insurance-required by law but provided by the private sector.

Mandatory health-care insurance cannot be a welfare program supported by taxes on the “rich.” That would stifle the economy. Nor should health-care benefits be taxed as income. Employers and individuals who take positive action should be encouraged, not penalized.

Requiring all employers to provide some form of health-care insurance will save money and take away the competitive advantage of bottom-feeders. There also are economies of scale in insuring large groups of people, but there must be meaningful tort-law reform to bring even more efficiency. Mandating health-care coverage, engaging the private sector, legislating tort reform and closing the independent- contractor loophole are necessary first steps to solving the health-care crisis in the U.S.