By Corinne Frugoni, M.D.
Eureka (Calif.) Times-Standard, March 16, 2019
“How on earth am I going to pay for this?” That was my first thought when diagnosed with cancer as a medical student. I would need two surgeries, and only had a limited student health plan. It turned out I was lucky. My surgeon friend got me discounted rates for services and I was cancer free within a year. I recognize that my experience is not the norm.
For years I’ve heard patients talk about this same paralyzing fear of cost. But after Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) introduced a Medicare-For-All bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 27, I have renewed hope that all Americans will never have to face such fear again.
The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would replace costly insurance premiums, copays and deductibles with less costly taxes that would cover essential care for everyone: doctor visits and hospitalizations, mental health, long-term care, prescription drugs. Even dental, vision and hearing would be covered. Everyone will have coverage regardless of health, wealth or employment status. Health insurance will be replaced by health assurance.
Eliminating for-profit insurance companies is the key to saving billions in administrative and operational costs, along with the government’s ability to negotiate lower pharmaceutical and medical device prices. With everyone in one risk pool, costs are distributed more evenly. Recent research shows that the United States could save trillions and simultaneously offer high quality health care that’s equally accessible to all residents. The U.S. president, Congress members, factory workers and single mothers will all have the same coverage. With a one-tier system, you bet government officials will make sure the system will work to benefit all.
Rather than shareholders competing for high-yield stock options, all Americans would gain financial peace of mind regarding their health.
Funded by combining the substantial sources we already have, including for Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health insurance systems, only modest new taxes would be needed.
The vast majority of people will save money.
Rural counties like ours that have difficulty recruiting and retaining doctors would benefit. That’s partly because Jayapal’s bill would provide regional funding for medically underserved areas.
Additionally, providing universal coverage would create a more uniform, fair-market value reimbursement rate, allowing private practice physicians, community clinics and rural hospitals to remain open. The current bureaucratic quagmire of multiple insurance regulations, a major cause of burnout for physicians, would also be eliminated. Regions could identify physician shortages and offer incentives to doctors to practice where they’re needed the most.
A Medicare-for-All system could lift the burden from local governments saddled with paying for employee health benefits. Health policies for Humboldt County’s 2,300-plus employees cost $18 million in 2017. Under a single-payer system, our local government could put those savings toward higher wages, infrastructure, or programs to improve quality of life.
Two concerns of organizations opposing single payer are choice and loss of private insurance. Let’s be clear about choice. Under our current fragmented system, we choose among an array of complicated insurance plans.
Under a Medicare-for-All plan, we will have a choice of healthcare providers and hospitals because networks will be eliminated. Single Payer means one network. It means giving up private insurance plans that target profit for hassle-free improved benefits. Your benefits card would entitle you to a doctor of choice who is free to provide the best care for you!
This system is already in place — and working — in a number of countries.
Let’s not be cynical but strive for the best. Remember some of our most treasured constitutional values started as dreams. We need to eliminate medical care for some with high quality, simplified Medicare for All.
So many compelling reasons to upgrade our health care system! But as a physician, my thoughts return to a former patient without health insurance. I discovered a suspicious growth in her colon, but she delayed surgery for three years, waiting to qualify for Medicare. By that time, the cancer had spread throughout her body and it was too late.
How many more will die in our country because they’re not getting the essential medical care they need? That choice is in the hands of our legislators. We will hold them accountable for their decisions.
Write or call your federal lawmakers at 202-224-3121 to express your support for Jayapal’s new bill.
We must act before it’s too late for ourselves and our loved ones.
Dr. Corinne Frugoni is a family physician in Humboldt and an Arcata resident. She’s a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and Health Care for All-California.