CFOs are often chided for their focus on quarterly results at the expense of long-term strategy. Oddly, when talk turns to health-care reform, the reverse seems to be true: suddenly the concern is with the impact of increased federal expenditures in the years to come, even among CFOs who believe that reform won't hurt their individual companies in the short term and may very well help them.
To some degree that's an understandable response for a constituency that has been conditioned to equate government actions with unwelcome costs, whether in the form of potentially onerous regulatory requirements, higher taxes, or an economy weakened by debt.
But prior to the latest push for health-care reform, finance chiefs were vocal in their criticism of the status quo, arguing that soaring premiums put them at a competitive disadvantage and obliged them to underwrite a social service that had nothing to do with making cars or renting hotel rooms or what-have-you.
Why, then, the collective lack of enthusiasm for any proposed version of health-care reform? Do all potential solutions have fiscally fatal flaws? Has the reform effort coalesced at precisely the wrong moment, with executives' attention focused on issues far more pressing than employee-benefits costs? Or has the sheer complexity of the matter (not to mention the intense political squabbling) prompted executives to tune out, turn away, or respond with a reflexive thumbs-down?
Senior writer Kate O'Sullivan put those and other questions directly to a range of CFOs, health-care experts, activists, economists, and others, in an effort to discover whether the prevailing attitude serves companies well (see "All Eyes on Reform"). At press time, a final bill had yet to be signed into law, although there was every indication that some kind of reform was imminent. In any event, CFOs who haven't spoken up on this issue lately need to decide what makes the most sense for their companies, and why, and should make their views more widely known.