By John Geyman, M.D.
The Huffington Post, Nov. 3, 2016
Medical students are becoming strong advocates all over the country for expanded and improved Medicare for All. Spurred on by their increasing awareness of the restricted access, unaffordability, and inequities keeping many Americans from necessary health care, they are organizing and making their voices heard about the urgency of real health care reform.
With the co-sponsorship of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), White Coats for Black Lives, and many regional and local groups, a good example of their activism was the Halloween Day event in Boston a few days ago, which they dubbed #TreatNotTrick. Donning their white coats, often with Halloween costumes, they staged a public demonstration and call-in asking Rep. Mike Capuano to co-sponsor the single-payer bill in the House, H.R. 676. Their message is that private health insurance is a trick, and that they just want to treat patients in a fair system of universal coverage of health care for all Americans.
The Boston event was part of the Second Annual Medicare-for-All National Day of Action put on by Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP), the student arm of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). Similar events were held from California to Minnesota to Tennessee on no fewer than 33 medical campuses. In Ohio, medical students visited Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office urging him to sponsor a single-payer bill in the U.S. Senate. In Philadelphia, they rallied to memorialize the lives lost because of being uninsured or underinsured. Their message is clear — private health insurance is a trick that erects barriers to care.
Today’s medical students, altruistic as so many are, see a medical profession caught up in a medical-industrial complex controlled by large corporations ranging from the insurance industry to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. The business model prevails — profits and revenue for corporate CEOs and their shareholders call the tune.
Medical students are seeing that almost two-thirds of physicians are now employed by big organizations, mostly expanding hospital systems. They see the decline of small group practice and the professional autonomy of earlier years diminished. They see an increasingly fragmented system with erosion of continuity of care amidst frequent changes of insurance coverage, narrowed and changing networks, and patients losing choice of physicians and hospitals. And they hear about earlier retirements and increasing burnout of physicians trying to keep up with the paperwork and bureaucracy of today’s multi-payer, largely for-profit system.
Medical students and their colleagues in other health professions are looking for a simplified system with universal access for all Americans to necessary care based on the principle that health care is a human right. That approach has been adopted for many years, in one way or another, by almost all advanced countries, while the U.S. remains by far the most expensive system with worse access and quality of care than most of these countries.
A sizable majority of Americans have favored national health insurance (NHI) for many years, usually including about three of five respondents to national surveys. A 2008 survey of more than 2,200 U.S. physicians in 13 specialties also favored NHI.
Activist positions for single-payer NHI have been taken in recent years by a growing number of members of professional organizations, including members of the American College of Physicians, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Women’s Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, and National Nurses United.
Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United, recently had this to say about the rapidly increasing insurance premiums in 2017 under the Affordable Care Act: “The [just announced] premium increases are outrageous and just the most recent sign of a broken, dysfunctional health care system.”
Medical students and other young health professionals are right in calling single-payer national health insurance, or Medicare for All, an urgent need. They are the future of health care in this country. Those of us in older generations welcome their empathy and caring in leading toward health care reform.
National health insurance, as soon as it is enacted, will deliver a better system for both patients and health professionals — one based on a service ethic that will transition over 15 years to a not-for-profit system. It would have simplified administration allowing physicians and other health professionals more time for direct patient care, the essential purpose of the medical profession.
Dr. John Geyman is the author of “The Human Face of ObamaCare: Promises vs. Reality and What Comes Next” and “How Obamacare is Unsustainable: Why We Need a Single-Payer Solution For All Americans.” He is professor emeritus of family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and past president of Physicians for a Naitonal Health Program. Visit www.johngeymanmd.org.