Here's a prediction: A fix is coming to the nation's broken health care system, a problem that plagues all, the rubber industry included.
In the richest country in the world, 47 million people have no health care coverage. Individuals who are insured face eroding benefits and higher costs. Companies are hammered by the endlessly rising cost of covering employees, which puts them at a disadvantage against less-generous peers and especially foreign competitors.
The rubber industry has not been immune from health care woes. In fact, it has been among the hardest hit.
Decades ago, when unions had real power, funding of health care was an easy bargaining chip for business. The benefit was relatively affordable, and companies, particularly the big tire makers, were willing to provide coverage.
The large companies set the benchmark, and smaller firms followed their example, generally to a lesser degree.
But health care costs have risen unabated. From 1990 to 2004, for example, the per capita cost of health care in the U.S. increased at an average annual rate of 5.9 percent. Blame for that has been levied on everything from consumers' overuse of expensive drugs to malpractice suits to the cost of treating the uninsured. The only indisputable fact is costs have risen to the point they are a national crisis.
As far back as 25 years ago captains of the tire industry were out in front of the issue, decrying the rise of health care costs. The tire sector's response reflects what has happened throughout American business-employees who faced little or no expense for health care have been required to pay an increasing share. Rubber companies, too, keep getting a higher bill.
The health care situation has become intolerable for both business and consumers. That's the point that typically must be reached before the nation reacts to a problem.
Health care has stepped to center stage for the president, the candidates who want to replace him, even odd-couple partners like Wal-Mart and its usually bitter union rival, the SEIU. Where it will lead to-the end of the employer-based system, a program of individual tax incentives, government-sponsored universal health care-is anyone's guess.
But change is coming. It has to.