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Healthcare Policy – Why Profits over People?

Americans remain in a healthcare access crisis. America is a third world country when public health data like infant mortality and life expectancy are tallied. We pay more than anyone for healthcare but receive less. Author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in Why Does Everyone Bow Down to the Health Insurance Industry? that 18,000 Americans die every year because they cannot qualify or afford health insurance. Even the employed are not safe because jobs can vanish overnight. It is revealing that most personal bankruptcies are from illness and occur among those with private insurance. In other words, private health insurance is not working for America.

Polling shows over 70% of Americans want a plan that gives healthcare to all US citizens like most other developed nations. We should have access to public healthcare like we do other public safety features that include public highways, public police, and public fire departments. Many people, myself included, consider healthcare a human right. The solution is single-payer healthcare insurance that covers all Americans.

Single-payer public insurance would replace private insurance, resulting in dramatic administrative savings and cost control mechanisms. Single-payer health care is private medicine—not socialized medicine. Instead of 1500 insurance carriers, there is only one. In Medicare, the US version of single-payer, 97 percent of funding pays for patient care. In typical private insurance only 70-80 percent of premiums goes to healthcare with the rest diverted to profits, executive salaries, marketing, and, in some cases, stockholder dividends. The single-payer proposal in Congress is the Medicare for All bill in Congress - HR 676 - sponsored by Representative John Conyers.

If 97% of premiums pays for healthcare, every American would be covered without increasing costs or raising taxes. Instead, costs would shift from profits to patient care. This is what Canadians have and they love it. And on July 30th, US Medicare celebrated its 44th year with no indication that beneficiaries are demanding its destruction. [For more details about single-payer, see Physicians for a National Health Program at www.pnhp.org.]

However, when private and public options exist side by side, industry lobbyists manipulate lawmakers to financially starve the public option like we currently do with Medicare and Medicaid. Defunding public health leads to failure and feeds industry propaganda about government being the problem. Given a level playing field, private for-profit insurance corporations cannot compete with Medicare.

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates the medical-industrial complex of insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals has a war chest of $1.38 billion to smash healthcare access for regular Americans. Their propaganda machine tells citizens with employee benefits, “At least you and your family are covered” when Americans have no job security. Moreover, U.S. employers are rapidly dropping healthcare benefits. The only Americans with guaranteed health insurance are those on Medicare. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina recently hired the brutal propagandists, Conservatives for Patient’s Rights and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who savaged John Kerry’s service record in Vietnam.

President Obama seeks reform that will reduce cost, guarantee choice of health plans and physicians, and provide quality care to every American. To cover those without insurance, he envisions a strong “public option” existing alongside private insurance plans. In Congress, current discussions involve re-regulation of private insurance with a possible public option. The ill-defined public option will not cover all the uninsured. There is no mechanism to prevent the sickest patients being relegated to the public plan leading to spiraling costs to cover their care. In fact, the current public option requires new sources of revenue—an estimated $1 trillion over the next decade. And it adds another layer of useless bureaucracy in the form of an “exchange,” serving only to broker and police private insurers.

Notably, our Senator Ron Wyden’s Healthy Americans Act does not include any public option. According to OpenSecrets.org, Blue Cross has been among Wyden’s top contributors over the last 5 years. Don’t let Blue Cross buy more “access” than voters. Flood Senator Wyden’s phones to remind him to choose people over profits and demand single-payer (Washington DC 202-224-5244 or Portland 503-326-7525). As you know, he has a lot of clout in Washington.

Need more inspiration? Watch Michaels Moore’s documentary Sicko about the 50 million uninsured Americans. Reflect how the industry hires people whose only job is to deny benefits to Americans with private insurance. The healthcare insurance industry has repeatedly shown it cannot reform itself. The insatiable greed of healthcare insurers endangers our national security and we voters must fix it.

What should we do? Like in the movie Network, Americans must get “mad as hell and....not take this anymore!” Call all of your federal legislators today and demand single-payer healthcare—Medicare for All. Even if we can’t get single-payer immediately, support for HR 676 gives Obama political leverage to advocate for a strong public option.

This crisis may be turned into an opportunity for Congress to show it listens to citizens. But, we have to let our representatives know what matters. The health of our nation is counting on each one of us to do our part.

Richard “Rick” Bayer, MD, FACP is board-certified in internal medicine, a Fellow in the American College of Physicians (FACP), practiced, and lives in Oregon.

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