By Belinda McIntosh, M.D.
Common Dreams, November 1, 2022
On September 19th, Atlanta became one of the latest municipalities to pass a resolution endorsing national universal health coverage. This important local action is aspirational in its urging of the United States Congress to pass the Medicare for All Act of 2021 – 2022 (H.R. 1976). However, the need for the affordable insurance this legislation would provide for every American is huge and pressing.
Luckily, the momentum behind Medicare for All is growing as Americans increasingly see that access to adequate, affordable, and equitable healthcare is an urgent need. The passage of this resolution comes just weeks after the Georgia State Democratic Convention adopted a similar resolution in support of an improved Medicare for All national health insurance program. Since 2018, over 100 cities and counties across the country have passed resolutions in support of Medicare for All. Last October, the American Public Health Association issued a policy statement declaring that healthcare is a human right and calling for the adoption of a single-payer health system to provide universal coverage in the best, most efficient, and equitable way.
Here is why national universal health coverage is so important to me. I am a private practice physician, a mother, and a cancer survivor. As a physician, I spend countless hours fighting with insurance companies to help my patients get the care they need. I watch them struggle to pay their medical bills. And I see the negative outcomes when they decline recommended treatments because they simply cannot afford to pay. As a physician who trained and worked in private and public healthcare systems for twenty years, I regularly see the encroachment of health management corporations into medical decision-making. As a private practice physician and a small business owner with a pre-existing health condition, I struggle to find appropriate health coverage for myself and my family.
From each vantage point—as a patient, a provider, and a small business owner—I see everyday how for-profit corporations fail to provide adequate access and coverage for vital health care services. I had to do something different. So I joined Physicians for a National Health Program and began advocating for change.
On September 27th, the same day that I addressed the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee and thanked them for passing the resolution in support of Medicare for All, I attended a rally on the steps of Grady Hospital, Atlanta’s largest public hospital. Doctors were gathered there to protest Governor Brian Kemp’s disastrous and stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid in Georgia, a policy that prevents access to care, results in negative health outcomes, and exacerbates a concerning trend of rural hospital closures. Georgia is one of only twelve states that has not expanded Medicaid, a provision in the Affordable Care Act that extends Medicaid coverage to almost all adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Georgia also ranks 41st in healthcare access and 43rd in healthcare outcomes.
The action taken by Atlanta City Council in passing a resolution endorsing Medicare for All comes at a critical time when Atlanta is experiencing a monumental casualty due to the failed policy of the Georgia’s Governor and its state legislature—the closure of a large city hospital.
In early September, Wellstar Health Systems, which owns and operates the Atlanta Medical Center (AMC), announced that the hospital will be closing its doors on November 1. AMC is one of two hospitals that the city of Atlanta relies on to care for the uninsured and most economically disadvantaged residents of Fulton and Dekalb Counties. Besides Grady, AMC is also the only other Level 1 trauma center in the city, providing treatment for the most severely injured. In the shadow of the impending crisis of AMC’s closure, doctors from Grady addressed the public about the importance of expanding Medicaid in Georgia, a move that would insure hundreds of thousands of Georgians who live in poverty, bring revenue to the hospitals who serve them, and potentially avert more disastrous hospital closures. In the past ten years, eight rural hospitals in Georgia have closed, with deadly consequences. Now similar impacts will be felt on a large city scale within a ten-minute walk of City Hall and a short drive from the state Capitol.
Expanding Medicaid in Georgia is one part of the solution to our healthcare dilemma. But it is not enough. We must guarantee adequate and equitable health coverage for all Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status, their zip code, or whether or not they are employed.
The Atlanta City Council, in passing a resolution in support of Medicare for All, inspires those in other cities and counties to take similar stands for affordable healthcare. Such actions amplify the voices of Americans who lack health insurance or are dissatisfied with their health care coverage. A recent AP-NORC pollshowed that 56% of Americans are dissatisfied with America’s healthcare system and only 10% of respondents said that our health care is handled well or very well.
Perhaps the radical idea was thinking that corporations could be relied upon to provide reasonable coverage at a reasonable cost for the majority of Americans. As it turns out, that is simply not what corporations are about. Corporations are about profits. We need a national single payer health insurance program. It is time to join the growing wave of support for passage of the Medicare for All Act of 2021.
Dr. Belinda McIntosh is a psychiatrist residing in Atlanta.