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Kodak Cuts Medical Benefits for Retired Employees

Update Date: Oct 11, 2012 09:51 AM EDT

Tell me how this works. You are born here in the U.S.; you go to school, get good grades and learn to be a good citizen; you go to college, meet your partner, marry, have kids and join the workforce; you work for a company for 40 years with a great record and retire; now, the company you worked for says they are cutting your retirement medical benefits and other benefits you worked 40 years to acquire, and U.S. policy has no protection for you.

You played fair and by all the rules, and now that you need the benefits of your labor, healthcare costs threaten to derail your entire retirement plan.

On Wednesday, the Eastman Kodak Company asked a bankruptcy court to do exactly this.

The company said it reached an agreement with the court-appointed committee of retirees to pay a total of $650 million in claims and $7.5 million in cash into a fund that could be used for future payments in exchange for eliminating its current $1.2 billion liability for medical, dental, life insurance and survivor income benefits. An association that represents about 5,000 Kodak retirees said it was surprised and disappointed by the proposal, which would affect about 56,000 retirees, dependents and survivors.

Here is how other countries have decided to handle healthcare costs, and if it is these costs that threaten to topple our entire economy, as some people would like you to believe, then any idea, no matter how radical, must be considered:

Our neighbor to the north, Canada's healthcare system evolved over the last 60 years on the principle of universal coverage for medically necessary services that doesn't depend on an individual's ability to pay for basic health care. Legal residents receive a health card that gives them access to primary and hospital care. Canadians don't face out-of-pocket costs for covered services such as copayments at the point of service. This system is paid for by tax dollars.

In France, healthcare is viewed as a right, not a privilege, and as such, 95% of its citizens are covered under a universal plan paid for by employee contributions, employers, personal income taxes. French patients pay upfront for treatment and services and are reimbursed by the government and any private insurance they may have.

Germany introduced mandatory health insurance for workers in 1883 and later extended the requirement to all, making it the oldest system of its kind in the world. The overarching philosophy is that everyone should receive high-quality health insurance regardless of their individual health risk or income. Because of demographic pressure from an aging population, in 1994 Germany introduced long-term care insurance that followed the same basic principles as health insurance.

In the U.K., the National Health Service (NHS) was created after the Second World War to provide comprehensive and universal access to health care. The vast majority of services are provided free at the point of use. NHS is funded from general taxation rather than the social insurance system used by most other European countries. Charges have been introduced over time to cover dental and vision services, long-term care and prescription drugs.

The problem here in the U.S. is that we view healthcare as a business, not a human right. In this model, shareholders and profit take precedence over people. It is obvious that in the near future, employers are going to require any future employees to waive healthcare coverage as a condition to employment. That's the American way.

See Now: What Republicans Don't Want You To Know About Obamacare

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