By Lisa M. Peck, M.D.
Our Future, July 15, 2019
I have been practicing Internal Medicine in Lake County, Illinois for over 25 years. Every day I meet patients who struggle to afford their health care.
Sadly, stories of failing care aren’t the exceptions in this country: they’re often the rule. Our system is fundamentally broken, and only a fundamental solution can fix it. That’s why we need Medicare For All – now.
After years of advocating for my patients, I find myself on their side of the table. Earlier this year, my mom was diagnosed with a very rare form of aggressive skin cancer. Her medication costs $13,000 a month. She is responsible for $2,000 in the first month, and $450 a month after that. That’s nearly $7,000 a year, and just for one medication.
She still has to pay the premiums for her Medicare supplement and pharmaceutical benefits plus her daily medications, which add up to another $5,000. $12,000 a year is a lot of money for anyone – especially on a fixed income.
I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I have insurance, and after an unrelated surgery earlier this year, I’ve met my deductible. My medical expenses should be covered through December, but I still have to meet my out-of-pocket costs. Then it starts all over again in January.
Every day, patients tell me high costs and insurance companies get in the way of getting the care they need. Patients refuse tests because their deductible is too high. Patients ask to switch their medications because they can no longer afford them under their new plan. Patients no longer have insurance because their partners have retired and they can’t afford the high deductibles of the ACA. Doctors and staff spend too much time on these issues, time which would be better spent on direct patient care.
It’s not right. No one should go bankrupt from cancer. No one should have to beg friends, family and strangers to pay for care. No parent should have to mourn a child because they couldn’t afford a vaccine. No one should die or lose a limb from having to ration insulin. No one should have to continue working just to keep health insurance.
Our current health care system is ineffective, inefficient, and cost-prohibitive for many, if not most Americans. The way it prioritizes profits over people’s lives is barbaric.
The United States spends twice as much on health care as other major industrialized countries, and we often have worse outcomes. Our tests, procedures and pharmaceuticals are all much more expensive.
Single-payer health care, as proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2019 Medicare For All Act, would expand and improve the current Medicare program so everyone can be guaranteed health care, not just access to care.
“Access” to health care means nothing if people don’t seek care because they can’t afford it.
Medicare For All provides comprehensive benefits and choice of provider. Doctors and hospitals can remain private. They would be financed by the government like our current Medicare system but with more benefits for patients.
We can save hundreds of billions of dollars every year by lowering the administrative and marketing overhead and fat profits of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Greater emphasis on primary care also lowers health care costs by facilitating earlier intervention, which would be covered financially not subjected to a high deductible people can’t afford.
Medicare For All would transform our current health care market, which is complex, profit-driven and inefficient, into a simple efficient system for the people.
Many people think doctors oppose single-payer health care. I know for a fact that many doctors wish, as I do, that we had a system which would allow us to spend more time offering care than being forced by insurance companies to act like bill collectors. The professional judgment of health care providers must come ahead of the consideration of private companies, whose primary purpose is to make their shareholders rich.
Health care is a right, not a privilege. It’s time to offer it to every American. We don’t need anymore Band Aids on our health care system. We need real reform. We need Medicare For All.
Lisa M. Peck, MD has been a physician in Lake County, Illinois for 25 years. She is a steering committee member of the Illinois Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program and she expresses these views as a private citizen.