By Lynn Marie Morski, M.D.
IVN (Independent Voter Project), Feb. 2, 2017
One of the more notable tenets of Bernie Sanders’ platform during his campaign for president was a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer healthcare system.
This was not the first time that a government-run, public option has received national attention. Many may recall that the initial versions of the Affordable Care Act had included a public option, but it was voted down in the Senate finance committee and removed from the bill.
In 2013, House Democrats introduced H.R. 261, the “Public Option Deficit Reduction Act.” The act would have amended the Affordable Care Act to add a public option. It would have lowered premiums by 5-7%, which they hoped would put pressure on private insurance companies to lower premiums. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated enacting the bill would cut the budget deficit by $104 billion over ten years. It didn’t make it out of the Subcommittee on Health.
Since that time, it appears that Americans have had varied opinions on single-payer or “Medicare-for-all” systems. Many don’t understand the concept fully, and others are turned off by the thought of paying more taxes or losing their current insurance. Often, the facts that additional taxes may be offset by lower costs for medical visits and a single-payer system would involve much lower administrative costs go unnoticed.
But despite the fact that neither H.R. 261, nor Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all system came to fruition, it appears that the desire for a single-payer system persists. On January 24th, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI-13) reintroduced HR 676, a bill aimed at expanding Medicare to provide universal coverage for all Americans, a bill he had initially introduced in 2003 and reintroduced in 2009, 2011 and 2013. The bill currently has 51 cosponsors.
Healthcare-NOW, an organization that advocates for a single-payer system, gave a detailed rundown of the bill’s highlights on their website, but most notably it would cover every American citizen, and the new national healthcare service would negotiate prices with physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical and medical supply companies. They estimate the savings to the United States at $387 billion dollars annually.
So while a number of states have had their own failed initiatives for statewide single payer systems, proponents of universal healthcare can be encouraged by the fact that there are a number of members of Congress who still think single-payer is an option worth fighting for at a national level.
Lynn Marie Morski is a physician at the Veterans Administration and an adjunct professor of health law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.