I am one of the 23,000 members of the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) who advocate for Medicare for all. Our current health crisis provides strong evidence that we indeed do need a Medicare for all system in this country. Part of the reason the United States has responded so poorly to the crisis is the fragmented, chaotic nature of our private health care system. Of course, the inept and dishonest approach of the White House contributed tremendously to the problem early on, but even this would have been significantly mitigated if we had had a Medicare for all health care system.
Medicare for all would build an infrastructure that would support caring for all our citizens health during a crisis. In a Medicare for all system, everybody is automatically covered and their information is all in one system. This would allow us to track patients and make timely interventions. This was crucial to Taiwan’s success in containing the COVID-19 virus. Our multiple insurers each have their own system of data collection, which is not shared. In addition, the tens of millions of people who are uninsured are not even in the system.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently testified before Congress that our current system is not set up to be able to quickly test a number of people, testing that is critical to controlling the early spread of COVID-19. Countries with a solid health care infrastructure are better able to respond to threats like COVID -19. Germany was able to do extensive testing to slow the early spread of the virus because they have a widespread network or regional laboratories. In other words, they had an infrastructure that supported the health needs of the country, not the profits of insurers.
Taiwan was able to make a strong response to COVID-19. Taiwan is only 81 miles from the mainland of China. They were expected to have the second-highest number of cases of COVID-19. Instead, they have had 108 cases and only one death so far. After the 2003 SARs epidemic, Taiwan created a health plan to deal with potential pandemics. Taiwan has a single-payer health care system, which allows it to do real health planning and place a priority on prevention. Private insurers do not invest in prevention because prevention is not in the financial interest of insurance companies with their high patient turnover.
Although this crisis highlights our need for Medicare for all, there are other important reasons for single-payer. Patients with diabetes mellitus can’t afford their insulin and some die tragically. Patients with other chronic conditions are uninsured or underinsured and delay care that would have prevented serious complications. Problems with access, quality and comprehensiveness, racial disparities in health care, unaffordable long-term care of the elderly, and poor rural health care would all improve significantly in a Medicare for all.
When people work together in solidarity and common purpose, they accomplish more through coordination than individuals can on their own. And they feel good about caring for each other. Canadians are proud of including everyone.
Dr. James Binder is co-founder of the Cincinnati Chapter-Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).