By Karen Garloch
The Charlotte Observer, March 7, 2017
Many people scoffed recently when President Donald Trump, while addressing plans to replace the Affordable Care Act, made this unwitting understatement: “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
But Dr. Robert Zarr – who knows health care complexity from the inside – saw it as an opportunity.
“I couldn’t agree more with the president that we need a much more simplified system,” he said.
To Zarr, that means single-payer, universal health insurance.
It’s not a new idea, of course. Single-payer is the basis of Medicare – the popular federally funded health program for people 65 and older. And it’s also the foundation for health coverage in many other developed countries. But in the United States, the idea of single-payer insurance for all is vilified as “socialized medicine” and an unaffordable government takeover of health care.
“That’s a myth,” Zarr said.
As a past president of Physicians for a National Health Program, Zarr has been pushing for single payer for more than 10 years. He will be in Charlotte Thursday to speak at a meeting of Health Care Justice-North Carolina. The free talk is at 6:30 p.m. at Midwood International and Cultural Center, 1817 Central Ave. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Republicans preparing to repeal and replace the ACA, Zarr says it could be the right time to switch from the current system, with multiple insurance companies and duplicative administrative costs, to a single-payer, government-financed system that would reimburse private doctors and hospitals to care for people from “cradle to grave.”
Republicans have indicated no interest in a single payer plan – although Trump did flirt with the idea in years past. This week, House Republicans unveiled their proposed replacement plan, which would keep some popular features of the ACA but do away with the mandate to buy insurance. Predictions are that fewer people would have insurance coverage than under the ACA.
In a phone interview, Zarr, a Washington D.C., pediatrician, remained optimistic about getting support for single payer. “In poll after poll, the majority of American physicians and the majority of the American public want single payer,” he said.
He said single-payer insurance would cost no more than people are paying right now. Instead of paying premiums, deductibles and co-pays, Zarr said they would pay taxes to provide health care for everyone. “We’re spending enough,” he said. “We’re just not getting what we deserve.”
Total U.S. health care expenditures amount to $3.2 trillion annually, much more than in other developed nations that provide universal health care. In the United States, despite that higher cost and the expansion of insurance under the ACA, many millions remain uninsured – or underinsured with high deductible plans that result in out-of-pocket costs they can’t afford.
Under a single payer plan, everybody would get care without confusing out-of-pocket expenses. And it would save money by reducing administrative costs in every doctor’s office, hospital and insurance company.
“We can’t afford not to have single payer,” Zarr said. “…The only opponents of the single-payer plan are the misinformed.”