By Sean Lehmann, D.P.M.
Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal, June 14, 2016
The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) has had some successes. Yet perhaps the biggest failure is leaving private, for-profit insurance companies involved in the delivery of health care. In our current system, these companies are middlemen — and as such, drive up the cost of care for all of us.
There are only two ways in which an insurance company can increase profits for its shareholders: 1) raising premiums, and 2) denying care. This is a serious conflict of interest, but we continue to let it happen. Last year alone, the CEO of Cigna made $49 million. Not to be outdone, the CEO of Gilead Pharmaceuticals made $232 million. Yet over 50 percent of personal bankruptcies in our country are due to medical bills. As a nation we spend 17 percent of our GDP on health care. The vast majority of nations spend less than 10 percent of their GDP on health care and still provide universal coverage for their citizens.
The overhead for private, for-profit health insurance companies is nearly 20 percent, yet the overhead with Medicare is only 1.3 percent. Eliminating the middleman would account for an immediate reduction in our health care costs. As Americans well know, we also pay infinitely more for prescription drugs than the rest of the world. In fact, we are the only country that lets drug companies charge whatever they want. By negotiating these prices, we could realize large savings.
Personally, I pay nearly $16,000 a year in premiums and deductibles before I get a single cent of health care coverage. Others pay considerably more. This results in a significant barrier to health care access. Seniors enrolled in Medicare pay much less than those on private plans. This program could be extended to everyone by increasing the current payroll tax for Medicare, but the increase would pale in comparison to what we are already paying for health care. Employers would see huge savings over what they are contributing to private, for-profit plans. A recent study by the University of Massachusetts showed that there would be an annual savings of $592 billion. No other plan can achieve this magnitude of savings on health care.
Medicare for all would also be welcome relief in my own practice. Instead of dealing with hundreds of insurance companies and literally thousands of plans, I would only have to deal with one. The countless hours spent credentialing, negotiating and appealing with all these different plans would be reduced significantly. The extra time I would have available could be spent where it should be: patient care. Physicians for a National Health Plan is a national organization of over 20,000 physicians and other health care providers that endorse this plan. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 58 percent of Americans agree. Please visit www.pnhp.org for more information.
Dr. Sean L. Lehmann is a practicing podiatrist in Carson City. He also has a master’s degree in health care administration and is chair of the Nevada Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.