As Tom Daschle, President-elect Obama’s choice for secretary of health and human services, flies across the country to attend community meetings on health care reform, and the Obama Web site solicits opinions and health care stories from citizens, those of us who support a single-payer national health insurance program hold our collective breath. Will the incoming government really listen to the citizens who, in poll after poll, by a clear majority, support single-payer health care? Or will the vested interests of the private, for-profit health insurance lobby win again?
The Congressional Budget Office just released a 197-page report analyzing issues related to health care reform. In discussing an array of proposals for reform, the report gave a scant two paragraphs to reviewing the single-payer, “Medicare for All” option. Yet given the fact that a single-payer national health care program would save $400 billion in administrative costs and pay for itself, rather than adding billions of dollars to an already overburdened system, one would think the “Medicare for All” option would be front and center, and would have received extensive attention in this report.
In addition to potential savings of $400 billion a year in administrative costs, a single-payer federally-administered national health program would help contain costs by creating global budgets and bulk purchasing, including prescription medications. Single-payer is the only feasible route to universal health care that would cover everyone, and be cost-effective for government, individuals, and business. Everyone would benefit except the private insurance companies, which would be eliminated in a single-payer system.
The public/private financing mix that is the foundation of the proposals made to date by president-elect Obama and Senators Ted Kennedy and Max Baucus simply won’t work, because they are unable to contain costs. This has been shown in numerous state experiments patterned after this model. The most recent example is our Massachusetts “Chapter 58” health reform legislation, which is being billed as the “model for the nation.”
The Massachusetts plan is not financially sustainable. State payments for premiums for the fully state-subsidized insurance plans will increase by an average of more than 9 percent in 2009. Participating insurers are trying to keep premiums down by decreasing benefits and shifting more costs to individuals, creating plans with huge deductibles and large co-payments. Governor Deval Patrick has said, “The increases at this rate over time (are) just not sustainable, not for families, not to business, not for government.”
Meanwhile, private insurance companies continue to rake in profits and pay their CEOs millions of dollars. CEO William van Faasen of Massachusetts Blue Cross Blue Shield earned $16.4 million in retirement benefits in 2006, in addition to almost $3 million paid for his other role as chairman of the insurance company. These bloated compensation packages would not be paid to administrators in a single-payer health care system.
Mr. Van Faasen has recently been in the news again in a Boston Globe exposé about his agreement with Partners Healthcare in Boston to pay their hospitals 30 percent more than other hospitals in the area. Such behind-the-scenes arrangements would not be possible in a more transparent non-profit single-payer system.
HR 676 is the national single-payer bill, known as “The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act.” This legislation would eliminate the for-profit insurance companies, and the government would administer our health care funds. However, our private health care delivery system would remain the same.
This is not “socialized medicine,” as hospitals and doctors’ services would remain private. There would be comprehensive coverage for everyone, paid for with a progressive tax. There would be no other premiums, co-payments or deductibles. Everyone would have a choice of doctors and hospitals, and there would be effective cost control. This would be accomplished without increasing health care costs.
Why isn’t this legislation the centerpiece of the Congressional Budget Report, rather than a two-paragraph footnote? Please call your congressional representative and ask him or her to support single-payer health care (HR 676). Then send this article to your friends and ask them to do the same.
This article, by Dr. Susanne L. King, is from www.berkshireeagle.com.