|Last year, Burd stunned this gathering with a speech about corporate and national health care policy that stressed the importance of personal responsibility, and pledged to create a corporate approach at Safeway that would have enormous impact on both the health of its employees and the health of the company's bottom line.
He went on to help create the Coalition to Advocate Healthcare Reform (CAHR), which currently consists of 53 members. At the same time, Burd joined Wal-Mart's CEO Lee Scott and SEIU Andy Stern's announcement at the National Press Club to find a universal solution to America's broken health care system.
The concept is to create an effective and efficient market-based healthcare system that focuses on universal coverage and individual responsibility, imbedding change within both public institutions and private enterprise.
Burd's update on last year's speech came after a 12-month period in which his company had negotiated numerous union contracts, each of which had health care-related elements. And if there was one question that hung out there a year ago, it was whether Burd would be able to make his argument stick during negotiations, and convince union leaders that it simply made sense that people who demonstrate unhealthy behaviors should pay higher insurance premiums than people with more healthy lifestyles.
Burd said that in virtually every negotiation, union leaders were willing to adopt a personal responsibility-driven health care model because they understand that if health care costs continue to go up, there will be no money left for pay increases.
Safeway is even willing to write a rebate check at the end of the year to people who change their behavior and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Burd iterated that 74 percent of all health care costs are related to four chronic conditions, the vast majority of which can be reduced through a change in personal behavior and that the private sector - through smart and disciplined programs - can reduce costs without shifting costs or turning to the government for assistance.
In the case of Safeway, Burd said, health care costs were reduced by 13 percent in 2006, remained flat in 2007, and he is convinced that they will remain flat or reduce further in 2008. This news would be shocking if true. I would love for this to be independently corroborated.
Burd noted that the Safeway approach has been two-pronged - it both encourages greater amounts of exercise (through a corporate fitness center and subsidizing gym membership costs in other locations) and better eating (the company cafeterias subsidize healthy meals and charges full market value for less healthy options).
There were other elements to the Safeway approach that Burd described, including a soon-to-launch concierge service that will assist employees and their family members diagnosed with either cancer or cardiovascular disease.
He says it will give them someone they can call and rely on for support after getting the diagnosis, helping them make the proper and most effective treatment decisions. Can't believe the HMOs will ever pay for that.
And, he said, Safeway currently is forming a healthcare services company that will endeavor "to help other companies and governments replicate our experience."
Burd urged attendees - retailers and manufacturers alike - to join the Coalition to Advocate Healthcare Reform (CAHR).
Safeway Inc., based in Pleasanton, California is one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America. It operates largely under the banner of Safeway, VONS and its premiums stores, Pavillions.
As of September 8, 2007, the company operated 1,738 stores in the Western, Southwestern, Rocky Mountain, and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States and in western Canada.
Clearly the corporate sector are reading the tea leaves and feel compelled to find solutions to America's broken health care system. Will we leave it in their hands, or push a universal plan that works in other parts of the industrialized world?