By Mark Dimondstein
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland.com), September 20, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress is back from its summer recess and the problems with our nation’s health care system haven’t gone away. How to fix health care is once again being hotly debated. Recently, President Donald Trump warned Republican senators that they must do something or be confronted with the dangers of “single-payer” health care. But, single-payer shouldn’t be the boogeyman – its time has come.
As a postal worker and now president of the American Postal Workers Union, I’ve had many occasions to meet with Canadian postal workers. The lives and dreams of postal workers just across Lake Erie are similar to workers in Northeast Ohio and other parts of the United States. One huge difference stands out – Canadian health care. Canadians never worry about being denied access to medical care. Unlike in the United States, no one is forced to choose between food and medicine. A major illness won’t drive them to bankruptcy or out of their homes.
Canada’s single-payer health care system is similar to Medicare but in Canada every man, woman and child has cradle-to-grave coverage for their doctor, hospital and nursing care – with full choice of physicians. The government also negotiates affordable drug costs with pharmaceutical companies.
Imagine how much less stressful our lives would be without co-pays, deductibles, billing for services, lifetime limits or huge insurance premiums. According to University of Massachusetts Economics Professor Gerald Friedman, 95 percent of U.S. households would save money under a single-payer plan.
It is striking that the Canadian success is rarely discussed in the current health care debate. The leadership of both major political parties treat health care as a privilege rather than a human right. The profits of the medical industrial complex sadly take center stage over the people’s interests.
Most of the Democratic Party leadership is wedded to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While some measures of the ACA should be preserved, such as coverage for the 153 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, the law has failed. It is not affordable. It contains no public option, does nothing to lower pharmaceutical prices, is a boon to the insurance companies and still leaves tens of millions uninsured and millions more with inferior insurance plans.
The failed legislation promoted by the Republican leadership is far worse. The GOP plans would gut Medicaid (used by one in five Americans and two-thirds of nursing home patients). Their plans would drive 22 million people from health insurance rolls, according to the Congressional Budget Office; incentivize employers to eliminate health coverage; limit coverage for pre-existing conditions; and drastically raise medical costs for seniors – all while giving billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest.
Most workers our union represents have employer-based health insurance. Every year we are paying more and receiving fewer benefits. A postal employee typically pays $6,000 a year for their share of family plan premiums – plus co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance. A “Canadian style” system would offer financial relief, even to those currently insured.
Donald Trump was right back in 2000 when he said: “We must have universal health care. Just imagine the improved quality of life for our society as a whole…The Canadian-style, single-payer system…helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans…There are fewer medical lawsuits, less loss of labor to sickness, and lower costs to companies paying for the medical care of their employees.”
According to the most recent figures, the United States spends 17.8 percent of GDP on health care – more per capita than any other country. More than 25 percent of health care expenses are administrative – money diverted to needless insurance industry overhead and profits. (Twice that of Canada.) U.S. citizens average $9,000 a year in health-related costs.
Yet, health outcomes are dismal. The United States ranks 34th in life expectancy. (Canada ranks 13.) A 2017 study by the Commonwealth Fund, found that the United States ranks last of the 11 most “developed” countries in health care quality, access, results and efficiency.
The ACA should be replaced with a better system. The recent debate between bad (“Obamacare”) and worse (“Trumpcare”) fails to meet the health care needs of the 99 percent. Let’s learn from our neighbor and demand single-payer universal health coverage – “Medicare for All!”
It is a proven, simple, cost-effective, and just way to heal what ails us.
Mark Dimondstein is president of the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union and a vice president of the AFL-CIO.