Doctors group welcomes national debate on ‘Medicare for All’
Nonpartisan physicians group calls single-payer reform ‘the only effective remedy’ for nation’s continuing health care woes and urges focus on facts, not rhetoric
Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of 20,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance, released the following statement today by its president, Dr. Robert Zarr, a Washington, D.C., pediatrician.
The national debate on single-payer health reform, or “Medicare for All,” that has emerged in the course of the presidential primaries is a welcome development. But unfortunately a number of misrepresentations about single-payer national health insurance – and the prospects for its attainment – have crept into the dialogue and are potentially misleading the public.
Most of these misrepresentations, or myths, have been decisively refuted by peer-reviewed research. They include the following:
Myth: A single-payer system would impose an unacceptable financial burden on U.S. households. Reality: Single payer is the only health reform that pays for itself. By replacing hundreds of insurers and thousands of different private health plans, each with their own marketing, enrollment, billing, utilization review, actuary and other departments, with a single, streamlined, tax-financed nonprofit program, more than $400 billion in health spending would be freed up to guarantee coverage to all of the 30 million people who are currently uninsured and to upgrade the coverage of everyone else, including the tens of millions who are underinsured. Co-pays and deductibles, which have been rapidly rising under the Affordable Care Act, would be eliminated. Further, the single-payer system’s bargaining clout would rein in rising costs for drugs and medical supplies. Lump-sum budgets for hospitals and capital planning would control costs even more.
A recent study shows 95 percent of U.S. households would come out financially ahead under an improved version of Medicare for all. The graduated, progressively structured tax burden would be based on ability to pay, and the heavy cost to average U.S. households of private insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and many currently uncovered services would be eliminated. Patients could go to the doctor or hospital of their choice, and would no longer be restricted to proprietary networks. Multiple studies over a period of several decades, including by the General Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office, show that a single-payer system would provide universal coverage at a much lower cost, per capita, than we are spending now. International experience confirms it. Even our traditional Medicare program, which falls short of a true single-payer system, has much lower overhead than private insurance, and shows that publicly financed programs can deliver affordable, reliable care.
A single-payer system would also greatly diminish the administrative burden on our nation’s physicians and hospitals, freeing up physicians, in particular, to concentrate on doing what they know best: caring for patients.
Covering everyone for all medically necessary care is affordable; keeping the current private-insurance-based system intact is not.
Myth: The U.S. has a privately financed health care system. Reality: About 64 percent of U.S. health spending is currently financed by taxpayers. (Estimates that are lower than this exclude two large sources of taxpayer-funded care: health insurance for government employees and tax subsidies to employers and individuals for purchasing private health plans.) On a per capita basis, the amount of government-funded health care in the U.S. exceeds the health spending of nations with universal health systems, e.g. Canada. We are paying for a national health program, but not getting it.
Myth: A single-payer system would overturn the gains won under the Affordable Care Act and provide inferior coverage to what people have today. Reality: A single-payer system would go far beyond the modest improvements that the ACA made around the edges of our current private-insurance-based system and ensure truly universal care, affordability and health security. For example, H.R. 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, would guarantee coverage for all necessary medical care, including prescription drugs, hospital, surgical, outpatient services, primary and preventive care, emergency services, dental, mental health, home health, physical therapy, rehabilitation (including for substance abuse), vision care and correction, hearing services including hearing aids, chiropractic, durable medical equipment, palliative care, podiatric care, and long-term care. It would eliminate financial barriers to care like co-pays and deductibles and eliminate restrictive networks. It would end the steady erosion of job-based coverage under our current arrangements and disconnect insurance coverage from employment. H.R. 676 currently has 61 sponsors.
Myth: The American people don’t support single payer. Reality: Surveys have repeatedly shown that an improved Medicare for All is the remedy preferred by about two-thirds of the population. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey yielded similar results, showing 58 percent of Americans support Medicare for All. A solid majority of the medical profession favors such an approach, as well, as do more than 600 labor organizations, and many civic and faith-based groups.
Myth: The goal of establishing a single-payer system in the U.S. is unrealistic, or “politically infeasible.” Reality: It’s true that single-payer health reform faces formidable opposition, especially from the private insurance industry, Big Pharma, and other for-profit interests in health care, along with their allies in government. This prompts some people to conclude that single payer is out of reach and therefore not worth fighting for. While such moneyed opposition should not be underestimated, there is no reason why a well-informed and organized public, including the medical profession, cannot prevail over these vested interests. We should not sell the American people short. At earlier points in U.S. history, the abolition of slavery and the attainment of women’s suffrage were considered unrealistic, and yet the movements to achieve these goals were ultimately victorious and we now wonder how those injustices were allowed to stand for so long.
What is truly “unrealistic” is believing that we can provide universal and affordable health care, and control costs, in a system dominated by private insurers and Big Pharma.
We call upon our nation’s lawmakers and the political leaders of all political parties to heed public opinion and to do the right thing by acting swiftly to bring about the only equitable, financially responsible and humane cure for our health care ills: single-payer national health insurance, an expanded and improved Medicare for all.
Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org) has been advocating for single-payer national health insurance for three decades. It neither supports nor opposes any candidates for public office.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
The concept of a single payer national health program – Medicare for all – has become part of the political debate leading up to the presidential primaries. To no surprise, the rhetoric has been driven by politics which characteristically reduces important concepts to sometimes meaningless or deceptive sound bites. The media, including liberal pundits who should know better, have made the debate a battle of words rather than ideas. We at PNHP believe that facts should guide the national debate, and thus this release.