By Rick Haglund
TRAVERSE CITY — Frustrated over seemingly never-ending hikes in health care costs, some 40 percent of Michigan business executives polled in a new survey say they support nationalized health care or a privately run, single-payer system financed by the federal government.
In the wide-ranging survey by pollster Steve Mitchell, business leaders also expressed a deep pessimism about the state’s business climate and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s leadership.
Sixty-nine percent said the state’s business climate is on the wrong track, while only 43 percent approved of the job Granholm is doing.
“We have not seen numbers like this since the early 1990s,” Mitchell said.
That was a time when unemployment in the state topped 15 percent. Unemployment currently is at 6.7 percent.
But Mitchell said Granholm’s low approval rating wasn’t too surprising, given the Republican leanings of most business owners surveyed. President Bush got a 70 percent approval rating in the poll.
Also the national economy is doing well, while Michigan’s manufacturing-based economy is struggling, he said.
Granholm’s spokeswoman Liz Boyd said the governor’s 43-percent approval rating by members of a group with close ties to the state Republican Party was “just great.”
Support for universal health care among most Republican business executives was surprisingly high, even in the face of rapidly rising costs.
“This finding that four in every 10 business decision-makers are willing to look at a different way of delivering health care is something you wouldn’t have seen 10 years ago,” said Mitchell, president of Mitchell Research and Communications Inc. in East Lansing.
His poll surveyed Michigan Chamber of Commerce members from Aug. 15-Sept. 1. Of those surveyed, 72 percent represented businesses employing fewer than 50 workers; 16 percent were in manufacturing.
Rich Studley, senior vice president of government affairs at the chamber, said business owners may be looking to the federal government to provide health care because they’re frustrated that their efforts to control costs aren’t working.
And many of the chamber’s small-business members who can’t afford to provide health insurance for their workers, but who would like to, “see that goal just getting farther and farther away,” Studley said.
William Rustem, president of Public Sector Consultants Inc. in Lansing, said the apparently increasing support by business for universal health care could lead to radical reforms. Many business leaders have been reluctant to push for universal health care because the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are opposed.
“I think this is an amazing result,” Rustem said about the chamber poll. “This may be a recognition by the business community of a public will to do something about health care.”
On Wednesday, the annual Kaiser Family Foundation survey found it now costs U.S. employers an average $10,800 a year to provide health insurance for a family. That’s up 9.2 percent from 2004.
The chamber survey also found the top two problems limiting the hiring of workers in coming years are a lack of skilled applicants and the high cost of health care.
Among various state taxes, 56 percent of business decision-makers said the Single Business Tax was the most onerous.
Studley credited Granholm with proposing sweeping changes in the SBT earlier this year, even though the chamber has vehemently opposed Granholm’s plan to raise taxes on insurance companies in order to give manufacturing and research companies a break.
He criticized the Legislature for not yet passing SBT reform.
“Every day our members are making decisions about whether to stay in Michigan or leave,” Studley said. “The message we want to send to the Legislature is: For goodness sake, take action.”