GM Chief Urges Health Care Action

DETROIT It's time for Republicans and Democrats to begin laying a foundation that will address rising health-care costs in the U.S., says General Motors Corp.'s top executive. The real arguments in Washington tend to settle around the poles of a complete free-market system to national health care, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner says at an industry trade conference here. I suspect we're not going

DETROIT — It's time for Republicans and Democrats to begin laying a foundation that will address rising health-care costs in the U.S., says General Motors Corp.'s top executive.

“The real arguments in Washington tend to settle around the poles of a complete free-market system to national health care,” GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner says at an industry trade conference here.

“I suspect we're not going to end up with either one of those solutions,” he says. “If we could get people working on stuff in the middle and not necessarily thinking we're going down one road or the other, I think there are some real improvements that could be made. It's doable, and we need to do it.”

While lawmakers hammer out a long-term bipartisan solution, Wagoner believes several improvements could be made to U.S. health care relatively quickly, including reducing medical malpractice lawsuits and disclosing information regarding the performance of doctors and hospitals to the public.

With Sen. John Kerry and President George Bush making health care a top issue in their campaigns for the Nov. 2 presidential election, GM is pressing for relief from its health-care costs.

Those totaled $4.8 billion in 2003, including more than $1 billion on prescription drugs.

A $400 billion revamping of the Medicare health system was passed last year. But health-care costs continue to rise.

“Resolving this issue is critical to the competitiveness of our industry,” Wagoner says.

He adds: “Foreign-based competitors have just a fraction of our cost.”

Lawmakers have taken some action. A new law signed by President Bush last year permits some doctors to garner bonuses for hitting performance standards and hospitals to receive higher payments by recording customer-care data.

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