By Ralph Nader
The Huffington Post, Nov. 6, 2015
Just when the prospects for single-payer or full Medicare for everyone, with free choice of doctors and hospitals, appear to be going nowhere, from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley comes a stirring that could go national and make single-payer a reality.
Throwing down the gauntlet on the grounds of efficiency and humanness, businessman Richard Master, CEO of MCS Industries Inc., the nation’s leading supplier of wall and poster frames, is bent on arousing the nation’s business leaders to back single-payer – the efficient full Medicare for all – solution.
The woefully wasteful and profiteering health care industries have blocked majority opinion, and a majority of physicians and nurses, to keep the present sky-high costly system in place, that receives huge taxpayer subsidies without any reasonable, and meaningful, price restraints. Health care companies exploit the complexities of Obamacare, which is powerless to restrain price spirals (note the staggering rise in recent prices of certain drugs). But the health care industry cannot defeat an organized business community fed up with uncontrollable cost burdens and the further competitive disadvantages they experience with western European countries, Japan or Canada – countries that have single-payer systems at half the per capita costs or less.
Mr. Master’s first step is now complete. He has produced a short movie called “Fix It: Healthcare at the Tipping Point” which makes a powerful business case for replacing the current wasteful multi-payer system with a single payer one. He traveled with his award-winning filmmakers to Canada, where he interviewed doctors, nurses and conservative business people. The latter were aghast over why their fellow conservatives in the U.S. are not seeing the light.
One industrialist, Dann Konkin, told the filmmakers that he embraces the Canadian healthcare system because it reduces his company’s costs. The film quotes Michael Grimaldi, former president of General Motors of Canada, as declaring that the Canadian healthcare system “significantly reduces total labor costs for automobile manufacturing firms.” His predecessor, Jack Smith, who went on to head the entire General Motors, said much the same.
Master and his crew then traveled to Taiwan, which has free choice of physician and hospital, and spends just 1.6 percent of its total operating health care budget on administration. Compare that figure with what Master estimates to be over 30 percent in the United States, with every doctor on average paying $80,000 a year on such administration costs.
It is always fascinating to learn what the “aha” moment is for leaders of reform movements. With Master it was a trip to Santiago, Chile, to meet the family of his asthmatic son’s fiancée. They went to a pharmacy to buy their usual brand of inhaler, which they purchased for $15. Back home in Easton, PA, the same brand cost between $120 and $140. Then Master had to buy his blood pressure medicine which he did for $4. Back in the U.S. it was $40. That’s when Master turned to his family and said, “we have to do something about this.”
Master has his numbers down. This year, health care will exceed the $3 trillion level in the U.S. People are anxious and worried about whether they are covered, what their co-pays, deductibles and exclusions will be or what they qualify for under the health industry fine-print contract, or the Obamacare criteria. Master believes that lifting the burgeoning burden and paperwork by enacting a system with public insurance and private delivery of health care will make our economy more efficient and our business more expansive.
His own company just got a 35 percent initial premium increase this year. That amounts, he says, to be $1.50 to $2.00 an hour for a production or warehouse worker in his firm.
The fifty members of the House of Representatives who have signed on to H.R. 676 legislation for single-payer, full Medicare for all will probably be delighted to hear about Richard Master’s film and his plans to spark a movement through our nation’s small and big businesses. He is coming to Capitol Hill soon, and he will be on the mass media – starting with the business cable news that is always looking for new energy from the private sector and won’t be able to resist his compelling arguments.
It is interesting to see how Master meticulously argues his case. Spending on health care is at 18 percent of GDP, he says, while the average in other industrialized countries is below ten percent. “We can’t compete,” he adds, “and if we go to 20 percent or 25 percent, we are going to have to give up on education and on any work we are doing on our infrastructure.” He thinks “of this painting by Goya – Saturn Devouring His Son. The healthcare system is essentially devouring the rest of the economy whole.”
I asked Master why the business community, surely knowing what he knows about the costs, did not unfurl the single-payer flag long ago. He replied that they are misinformed by legions of insurance agents and others in the industry who populate chambers of commerce everywhere. He knows that single-payer actually strengthens the free, competitive market of delivering health care, far more than the insurance companies and restrictive networks do. (Listen to my interview with Mr. Master at www.ralphnaderradiohour.com).
There is another reason businesses haven’t championed this issue. Businesses do not like to take on other sectors of business or changes that present an existential peril to the latter. Single-payer, as Medicare for the elderly did in the mid-Sixties, replaces the health insurance companies. That is too much conflict for corporations. The next step for this historic advance is for Mr. Master to take his film to business audiences around the nation. I suggested that Mr. Master also organize a major conference of representatives of all business sectors in Washington, D.C. to make the definitive statement that rational health care through full Medicare for all is about to be put on the national policy agenda.
What issue could more enliven more a presidential election year?
Master’s film can be found at www.fixithealthcare.com.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author.