On Thursday, June 1st, we held a wonderful panel on the state of healthcare in our country. Mark Regan of the Disability Law Center of AK and Kati Ward of Planned Parenthood were joined by our own Tim Higginbotham. Together, they discussed the fundamental flaws of our healthcare system, the history that led to our current crisis, and the promise of a future single payer system. Read more about single payer below.
A Case for Single Payer:
Healthcare in the United States is a commodity, something that we as consumers are forced to shop for and purchase. But health insurance is not like other consumer goods. Not only is it far more expensive than the other costs that burden us, but obtaining it is often a matter of life or death: approximately 45,000 US residents die every year from being unable to afford to go to the hospital for a treatable condition.
Our national obsession with deregulating markets has led to a healthcare system that places an extraordinary cost burden on consumers. Consumer-driven healthcare gives those of us who have insurance ever-increasing out-of-pocket expenses like premiums, co-pays and deductibles, while those of us who are uninsured become saddled with insurmountable debt after the first medical emergency we face. Millions of people suffer or die who shouldn’t, and the more we liberalize our healthcare markets, the worse it gets.
The market mindset has destroyed many things, from schools to prisons, but it’s hard to find a clearer example than the US healthcare system. As of this year, 28 million people are uninsured, and that number could close to double if the GOP is able to pass a healthcare plan of its own. Not only that, but many people who are insured can’t afford to go to the hospital regardless. Most of us are at constant risk of falling into life-ruining debt.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was intended to solve two major problems: an obscenely high uninsured rate and rapidly rising out-of-pocket costs. While it did lower the uninsured rate, it has proven unable to achieve truly universal coverage. And as for out-of-pocket costs? They’ve risen even more uncontrollably.
But while there is a lot to hate about the ACA, it has also accomplished a lot of good, from guaranteeing that insurance plans provide essential health benefits to expanding Medicaid, which remains its most popular achievement. In fact, the popularity of Medicaid expansion is perhaps what has saved the ACA from being gutted by a Republican-controlled Congress. This points to a fundamental rule of economic policy: the more universal a program is, the more advocates it will have for its preservation.
Ultimately, the ACA will never solve our healthcare crisis because it does nothing to address our current fragmented, privatized system. Only a truly universal system freed from the profit motives of the market can lead to a better future in care.
This brings us to single payer healthcare. In a single payer system, a single entity - such as the federal government - organizes healthcare financing. Care itself remains in private hands (unlike in a socialized healthcare system) and all US residents would be covered for necessary medical services. We’d be able to go to the hospital for checkups and receive both preventative treatment and long term care. Care for mental health, reproductive health, vision and dental would be covered, as would prescriptions and medical supplies.
If you know someone on Medicare, the coverage they get is essentially what you could expect, only with more people on the plan - including all politicians - there would be universal incentive to make it even better.
A Medicare for all system would be funded by an increase in income taxes on the country’s top earners, in addition to a payroll tax on businesses. By eliminating the unnecessary administrative and overhead costs of insurance companies, single payer would prove to be less expensive than the system we have now. Administrative overhead accounts for over 30% of our current health spending, which is far higher than in single payer countries (12% in Canada, for instance).
Overall cost savings would be substantial for US residents. Premiums would disappear, as would other out-of-pocket costs like co-pays and deductibles. Businesses, meanwhile, would no longer need to compete on the job market for providing health benefits, and for most the payroll tax would be less than their current health spending.
A single payer future is not a distant dream. In fact, single payer healthcare is already extremely popular, with support from close to 60% of US residents. It’s both the moral and the economic thing to do. Both the uninsured and the insured suffer under our current system, while under a single payer system everyone but the extremely rich would benefit. Even those who ultimately wouldn’t save much money would be freed from the endless dread and nuisance of the health insurance market.
This is the most unifying issue in the country right now. It’s something that we should all get behind and fight for. We should never vote for another politician who doesn’t support universal healthcare at an absolute minimum. Ultimately, single payer will win; we just have to come together and demand it.