Health care’s high costs, inferior coverage and lack of inexpensive options aren’t news, but within 72 hours early last month, a few things sparked renewed interest in the increasingly feasible Medicare for All – news about price hikes for various drugs, health-care reforms in developing countries and the first Congressional hearing on Medicare for All (M4A).
Three dozen pharmaceutical companies are raising prices on hundreds of prescription medicines an average of 6.3 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported; Bolivian president Evo Morales announced the March launch of free universal health care there; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi approved a request by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., to have the Budget and Rules Committees conduct hearings on Medicare for All.
Medicare for All is “single-payer” health care, a model where all Americans would get health coverage from private providers paid by government. M4A would improve the popular Medicare program for the elderly and expand it to cover virtually the whole country. M4A advocates say it would omit private insurers, co-pays, deductibles and huge profits, saving workers, businesses and consumers billions of dollars.
Prospects no longer seem impractical:
- The public supports Medicare for All, according to polls by Reuters, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard/Politico, all of which show about 70 percent approval, including a majority of Republicans (64 percent, Kaiser reported).
- Such “single-payer” health-care plans are endorsed by the AFL-CIO and many labor groups, including the Springfield/Central Illinois Trades & Labor Council, AFSCME Council 31, the Chicago Teachers Union, UNITE HERE’s Midwest Regional Joint Board and United Steelworkers District 7 as well as “All Unions Committee for Single Payer Healthcare” and “Labor Campaign for Single Payer.”
Also backing “single-payer” options like M4A are the Green Party, the NAACP, the National Farmers Union, the National Organization for Women and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
- Studies seem to show the investment in Medicare for All in the next decade could mean spending trillions of dollars less than current health-care spending.
All that means opposition, and insurance, drug and hospital corporations have reportedly formed “Partnership for America’s Health Care Future,” to “minimize the potential for this option in health care.” With considerable resources derived from their substantial profits (the health-care industry spends about $30 billion annually on advertising alone, according to January’s Journal of the American Medical Association), the campaign is expected to be widespread.
“Those of us who advocate for universal health care have resources, and the partially successful Affordable Care Act shows data that by keeping all of us as healthy as possible, we keep our country and society as healthy as possible,” says David Pittman, R.N., Peoria. “If Americans can ascertain the truth of health care in their lives, they will see that cost efficiency and overall wellness will improve with Medicare for All.
“While one third of Americans may be against the idea of Medicare for all, two-thirds support it,” he continues. “Opposition has many roots, including a preference for small government (usually from those who are financially well off), attitudes rooted in misinformation and not being interested. Also, some physicians prefer a situation where they have massive autonomy, minimum accountability, high profit margins and tremendous latitude for subjectivity compared with a transparent and equitable health-care system.”
Other activists and health professionals shared their perspectives.
“This is being ignored by the leadership of the Democratic Party,” says labor leader Mike Everett of the Electrical Workers. “The recent majority elected to the House includes new supporters for Medicare for All. We need to force-feed it to the centrists or run good people against them. They should recognize that they are treading water in a broken system that needs to be brought into line with the rest of the industrialized world.”
Dr. Pamella Gronemeyer is a physician and small business owner in Highland, Ill., who’s active in the Illinois Single Payer Coalition. She says, “We can make Medicare better without copays and deductibles if we include the whole nation and all age groups. As a Medicare enrollee, I have my choice of physicians and health-care facilities, I know that the bills will be paid, and patients and providers are not pitted against each other.
“Additional taxes that a person would pay annually are far less than the average person is paying in premiums to insurance companies,” she continues. “Also, the savings created by a system that spends money for health care and not administrative costs is indisputable. Medicare operates on an overhead of 2 to 3 percent; the overhead of private insurance companies is around 20 percent.
“Many fear that if they give up their employer health benefits, they will get worse care. This is not true.”
Politically, legislators should recognize that issues that are initially controversial can be eventually embraced by society, said U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Chicago, a Bradley University graduate and member of Congress’ Medicare for All Caucus.
“Medicare faced considerable resistance immediately prior to its passage [in 1965],” Kelly said. “It has now become a staple upon which millions of Americans rely. Many other developed countries had some form of social insurance that eventually evolved into national insurance for nearly as long as the United States has wrestled with the concept.”
Everett sounds frustrated, saying, “Lawmakers know there is majority support for Medicare for All, [but] they’re reluctant or opposed for several reasons. Some fill their campaign vaults with money from the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies and other sectors of the health-care industry. Politicians worry more about their reelection over the needs of the people they claim to represent. Others fear being labeled as socialists or in favor of ‘entitlements,’ which carries a negative connotation thanks to decades of attacks.”
Gronemeyer agrees, adding, “Corporate Democrats often get money from health-insurance companies. The lack of political will is due in part to the belief that you must ‘earn’ your health benefits. Many politicians think that health care should not be universal and ‘free to all’ because people will take advantage of it. As a physician, I have more faith in humanity. I put my faith and trust in my fellow citizens to protect and defend the U.S. It is my patriotic duty to support the health of the nation.
“Disease does not discriminate and only go after those who ‘deserve to be sick’,” she continues. “Diseases can affect young and old. The country is only as well as the state of health of the sickest and weakest.
“Medicare for All is the most economically affordable, equitable and patriotic health care for this country,” she adds. “Many people have been frightened about the idea that Medicare for All is socialism, which it is not. It is publicly funded and privately delivered.”
Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Adam Gaffney, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, scoffs, saying, “The smear of ‘socialized medicine’ has been used a thousand times and has lost its bite. There is no brand loyalty to insurance companies, which are rightly seen as parasitic.”