On the eve of this Holiday Season, we want to wish all Laborers, signatory employers, health and welfare fund staffs and your families a safe and happy holiday and the very best for 2007.

Looking back over 2006, it is clear that the recent, mid-term Congressional elections in the United States were one of the year’s most important events. While no one can say with certainty where the government is now headed on a host of important issues, we can be sure that the return to “divided” government will spark healthy debate and, most likely, some significant changes in direction and policy.

One area of particular interest to our Fund is health care costs and the growing number of Americans – more than one in every six – who have no health insurance. Without insurance, these people avoid trips to the doctor until their problems are unnecessarily serious. Then, they often go to an emergency room where the cost of care is highest. Over the long run and the broad population, this “system” of care is dysfunctional, doing little to promote wellness or minimize suffering while greatly increasing the overall cost of care.

Further, because most people without insurance cannot pay their emergency room bills, hospitals recoup their losses by charging higher fees to people with coverage. As the most broadly insured section of the population, the labor movement ends up paying much of the health care costs of the uninsured. This is why unions and union employers are interested in health care reform that extends coverage to all Americans.

The problem is complex and no obvious solution exists. Conservative and insurance industry criticism of the last comprehensive approach – proposed by President Bill Clinton more than a decade ago – helped fuel the GOP sweep in the 1994 midterm elections. Since then, policymakers have been reluctant to attack the problem, despite a rising tide of public frustration. However, according to leaders of the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, finding a way to extend health care coverage to all Americans is a top item on their agenda. We look forward to their proposals.

While the new Congress considers major reform to address the problem of uninsured Americans, it will have the opportunity to tackle a variety of important but contentious occupational safety and health issues as well (see story, page 10). As the Democratic agenda on both fronts emerges, the LHSFNA will work with appropriate federal agencies to craft effective, practical solutions.

However these matters resolve themselves, 2007 promises to be a vigorous and challenging year for everyone associated with the health and safety of Laborers. We will keep you informed as events unfold.