By Jack Bernard
Charleston (W.V.) Gazette-Mail, November 11, 2017
Gallup surveys indicate that Americans view health care as a major national priority. But, they are confused about our health care system. In my opinion, this situation is largely due to brainwashing by the health insurance industry and their political allies that they finance via campaign contributions.
In the 1980s, I headed a team for NME (now Tenet) that was trying to acquire hospitals in Texas and the southwest. I had mixed emotions about the task. I knew management and purchasing would improve. But, I also had concerns as to what would happen to indigents with a private company running what had been a governmentally owned or nonprofit facility.
I still have these concerns, but not only about for-profit chains. Many not-for-profits, experiencing financial pressures, are now hesitant to serve indigents. With recent moves by the Trump administration, these pressures will only increase.
There is a way for us to resolve the problem of the underserved while containing costs — Medicare for All, or single-payer.
But, as the tobacco industry once deceived Americans, self-interested forces in the insurance and pharmaceutical industry now propagate single-payer misconceptions. Here are the top six:
Myth: Single-payer insurance is socialized medicine.
Fact: Single-payer just expands current Medicare to cover all age groups. Doctors and hospitals continue to be independent. Socialized medicine means care by government doctors and hospitals (such as England or the VA).
Myth: You cannot choose your own doctor under single-payer.
Fact: With Medicare, the patient chooses the physician. This would continue.
Myth: You are restricted from receiving medical services under single-payer.
Fact: As is true today with all insurance, patients can opt to pay out of their own pocket for any medical service that insurance (Medicare) will not cover.
Myth: We have the best health care in the world.
Fact: We are far behind other countries in many categories, such as infant mortality and longevity. Hospital patients in developed countries are more satisfied with their care than patients are here. Per capita costs here are double or triple those in other developed nations.
Myth: Uninsured sick people can just go to the emergency room.
Fact: Emergency room care is the most costly form of primary care. When the uninsured are treated, the costs are passed on either to taxpayers or to other patients through higher hospital bills. Often, patients who delay care become more ill and treating them costs much more than primary care would have.
Myth: It is the same irresponsible people, year in year out, who do not have health insurance.
Fact: The pool of uninsured is constantly changing due to economic circumstances. Family coverage premiums are over $18,000 a year, more than double what it was a decade ago and still rising. The national percentage of uninsured rose dramatically over time until the Affordable Care Act was passed. Many of the 30 million still uninsured are the working poor who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, especially in the 19 red states which chose not to expand Medicaid.
For many years, the tobacco industry told the American public that cigarettes did not cause cancer. Eventually, citizens figured out that they were being lied to on a regular basis and bipartisan legislation passed.
Our current health care financing system is broken, but fixable. Obviously, Trumpcare was not the answer.
House Bill 676, single-payer, currently has over 100 Democrat sponsors. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Bernie Sanders and has 16 co-sponsors.
Other developed nations with single-payer or the like spend much less on health care than we do and have better mortality/morbidity. The day will come, hopefully sooner rather than later, when Americans will discover the truth about Medicare for All and demand that Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, enact it.
Jack Bernard, of Peachtree City, Georgia, was a for-profit corporate executive with several hospital systems in Charleston and elsewhere.