By Elaine Silver, M.D.
The Sacramento Bee, April 4, 2019
What happens to those who have no health insurance – or are underinsured – in Sacramento County?
As a retired physician, I see some of them at the Imani Clinic, a free clinic for the underserved that’s run by UC Davis medical and undergraduate students.
There, people can get basic services and treatment for conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. It’s also where the failures of our nation’s healthcare system are painfully clear.
Since we’re only open on Saturdays, we can’t provide emergency care or even guarantee care when it’s needed. We don’t have access to affordable radiology services or specialty care. It’s devastating to face a situation where a treatment is so crucial but is totally unaffordable.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) introduced a new Medicare-for-All bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 27 that will finally mend our broken healthcare system. It would give all U.S. residents coverage for essential medical needs, including hospitalization, doctor visits, mental health, vision, dental and long-term care. And it would do so while controlling costs and allowing for free choice of doctors and hospitals.
How can we as a country of enormous wealth and resources continue to look away when people are dying of complications from treatable diseases – or because a cancer wasn’t diagnosed until it was too late to treat?
We spend more per capita on health care than any other country, but since countries like Canada provide total health care for all for less money, we are clearly not spending our health care dollars wisely.
Ensuring that everyone has lifelong health coverage isn’t just the moral and humane thing to do. It’s the best chance we have for healthier, more productive communities.
More than 100,000 people in the Sacramento Valley had no health insurance in 2017, according to the California Health Care Foundation. Thousands more are underinsured. They have health insurance but can’t cover out-of-pocket expenses, including ever-rising premiums, deductibles and copays.
Chances are you know someone who has lost their home or gone bankrupt due to massive medical expenses brought on by illness or injury. Unfortunately, it could happen to so many of us under our current healthcare system.
Just as importantly, this type of single-payer system would actually save money in terms of overall spending compared to what we now spend. That’s largely because it eliminates the middleman, the insurance companies, and allows the single payer – in this case a public agency – to negotiate prescription and medical device prices.
There are so many reasons to support Jayapal’s bill. Among the most shocking to me as an American doctor is that, compared to other wealthy developed nations, our country’s infant and maternal mortality rates are consistently higher. This means that American mothers and babies aren’t getting the care they need at the time they need it.
Besides offering universal coverage, Jayapal’s bill would provide regional funding for rural and urban areas, like the North Valley, that are medically underserved. It will also greatly simplify the lives of doctors, who would no longer have to deal with the burdensome, multi-payer insurance system of today.
While change can be scary, this bill will bring about true health care reform and security. It will ensure that no one is left out because of their health, their job or their socio-economic status, just like every other large, rich country already does.
I urge you to write and call your federal legislators and tell them why you support Jayapal’s Medicare-for-All Act of 2019.
Together, we can create a stronger and healthier America for each one of us and our children for generations to come.
Dr. Elaine Silver is a retired physician in Sacramento County and a member of Physicians for a National Health Program.