EASTON, Pa. — Walk into a big-box retailer such as Walmart or Michaels and you’re likely to see MCS Industries’ picture frames, decorative mirrors or kitschy wall décor.
Adjacent to a dairy farm a few miles west of downtown Easton, MCS is the nation’s largest maker of such household products. But MCS doesn’t actually make anything here anymore. It has moved its manufacturing operations to Mexico and China, with the last manufacturing jobs departing this city along the Delaware River in 2005. MCS now has about 175 U.S. employees and 600 people overseas.
“We were going to lose the business because we were no longer competitive,” CEO Richard Master explained. And one of the biggest impediments to keeping labor costs in line, he said, has been the increasing expense of health coverage in the United States.
Today, he’s at the vanguard of a small but growing group of business executives who are lining up to support a “Medicare for All” national health program. He argues not that health care is a human right, but that covering everyone with a government plan and decoupling health care coverage from the workplace would benefit entrepreneurship.
In February, Master stood with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) outside the Capitol after she introduced her Medicare for All bill. “This bill removes an albatross from the neck of American business, puts more money in consumer products and will boost our economy,” he said.
As health costs continue to grow, straining employer budgets and slowing wage growth, others in the business community are beginning to take the option more seriously.
While the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other large business lobbying groups strongly oppose increased government involvement in health care, the resolve of many in the business community — especially among smaller firms — may be shifting.
“There is growing momentum among employers supporting single-payer,” said Dan Geiger, co-director of the Business Alliance for a Healthy California, which has sought to generate business support for a universal health care program in California. About 300 mostly small employers have signed on.
“Businesses are really angry about the system, and there is a lot of frustration with its rising costs and dysfunction,” he said.
In addition, some in the business community are hesitant to sign on to Medicare for All with many details missing, such as how much it would increase taxes, said Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer for the National Business Group on Health, a leading business group focused on health benefits.
Democrats Propel the Debate
For decades, a government-run health plan was considered too radical an idea for serious consideration. But Medicare for All has been garnering more political support in recent months, especially after a progressive wave helped Democrats take control of the House this year. Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, strongly back it.
The labor unions and consumer groups that have long endorsed a single-payer health system hope that the embrace of it by employers such as Master marks another turning point for the movement.
Supporters of the concept say the health system overall would see savings from a coordinated effort to bring down prices and the elimination of many administrative costs or insurance company profits.
“It’s critical for our success to engage employers, particularly because our current system is hurting employers almost as much as it is patients,” said Melinda St. Louis, campaign director of Medicare for All at Public Citizen, a consumer-rights group based in Washington.
Master, a former Washington lawyer, worked on Democratic Sen. George McGovern’s presidential campaign before returning to Pennsylvania in 1973 to take over his father’s company, which made rigid paper boxes. In 1980, he founded MCS, which pioneered the popular front-loading picture frame and steamless fog-free mirrors for bathrooms. The company has grown into a $250 million corporation.