In 1777, the Commonwealth of Vermont became the first sovereign state in the world to abolish slavery. On May 26, 2011, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to commit itself to establishing a truly universal single-payer health care plan. Thus, Vermont could lead the rest of the United States to do what all of the other major industrialized countries have already done: Establish a not-for-profit, single-payer national program to provide health care for all of us. Single-payer movements have already made important progress in California and Pennsylvania. The New Jersey One Plan One Nation coalition is leading the campaign in New Jersey.
Both the abolition of slavery and the establishment of a truly universal health-care system were based on human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was drafted in 1948 by a committee chaired by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, holds that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.” It is truly an embarrassment that the United States is the only major industrialized nation that fails to ensure that all its people have access to medical care.
There are also solid business reasons to expand Medicare to cover everything for everyone. A single, efficient, not-for-profit, single-payer public system for paying for health care would provide many important economic and social benefits to the people of New Jersey, and not just to our 1.3 million uninsured.
Health insurance companies have been increasing their premiums by up to 20 percent per year, even while providing less coverage. The average annual cost of employee-based family health insurance in New Jersey is $13,750. Health insurance companies charge a 31 percent overhead. Medicare’s overhead is only 3 percent. Under Medicare for All, individuals and families will pay less for health insurance. Patients will pick their own doctors. Patients and doctors, not insurance companies, will make treatment decisions. Patients will also be freed from the fear of medical bankruptcy. In the United States today, 62 percent of cases of personal bankruptcy result primarily from illness and medical debt. Of these cases, 70 percent had health insurance when the bankrupting illness or injury arose.
Large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations and state and local government will also benefit from the single-payer system because it will provide comprehensive medical insurance to all of their employees at a much lower cost. This cost savings will reduce the cost of government and provide a substantial boost to the competitiveness of businesses.
A single-payer system would largely solve New Jersey’s budget problems. The state government would save $2.6 billion per year on employees’ health care, charity care and workers’ compensation. New Jersey would also eliminate more than $60 billion in unfunded obligations for retirees’ medical care. The City of Trenton would save $18.2 million per year. Camden would save $17 million per year. (Seventy five percent of Camden’s budget comes from the state of New Jersey.)
Health-care providers will also benefit from the single-payer system. Under the current system, doctors often find their professional judgment second-guessed by anonymous insurance company clerks. Then, doctors and their staff must navigate a complicated bureaucratic maze if they hope to be paid. A single-payer system eliminates this bureaucratic nightmare, providing instead a simple and streamlined billing system. It will be like today’s Medicare system, except more inclusive, more comprehensive and potentially more generous to health-care providers.
Congress should be working to expand Medicare to cover all necessary care for everyone. Instead, some members of Congress are threatening to cut Medicare funding, even though 92 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of independents and 70 percent of Tea Party members oppose cuts to Medicare, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll conducted in April.
Like abolition, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, the passage of Green Mountain Care in Vermont was the product of a grassroots political mobilization. The movement for a simple, economical and humane system for providing health care is the civil rights movement of our generation. New Jersey One Plan One Nation is leading that movement here in the Garden State. Join us.
Ray Stever is president of the New Jersey One Plan One Nation Coalition (njoneplan.org).