By Richard C. Dillihunt, M.D.
Portland (Maine) Press Herald, October 13, 2017
Seventeen years ago, I wrote an op-ed for the Maine Sunday Telegram headlined “Universal Medicare: The time is coming” (Nov. 19, 2000). Apparently I jumped the gun, as it has not taken place yet.
Now I feel like a cicada, an insect that looks like a huge fly, emerging after 17 years of hibernation under the bark of a tree and emitting unique and characteristic shrill buzzing sounds to attract attention to itself. Now the sounds come from independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The concern of our nation regarding health care for all is reaching a crescendo, and we need to address this. The resounding will of the people should be recognized and acted upon.
The recent and astounding conversion of now-retired Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., into a supporter of a system of single-payer care like that of Canada leaves one breathless. Baucus owed this to every American, having blocked single-payer eight years ago as an architect of the Affordable Care Act.
Today I repeat the message after all these years. The time for universal health care and single-payer is near, and the politicians of all parties have an obligation to awaken and do what hundreds of millions of Americans crave. Poll after poll expresses this desire.
Current efforts otherwise in Washington are dying day by day, and the gasping last breaths of politicians to repair, replace, revise, renew or whatever are just roadblocks and flimsy efforts to make an easy job impossible.
President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and so many others should be ashamed they have not pushed the easy button bringing superior health care to every last citizen of America. Repeated tweaking of and failures to change the system with little study and no experience only expose amazing incompetence, lack of education and profound political positioning. Trying to solve these issues with political threats and outright lies rather than facts would be laughable if it were not such a serious matter, easily the most important domestic issue of our time.
We owe it to one another to bring about this change and elevate our position to the top. In a recently released, reliable comprehensive study of health care worldwide, our only top position is cost. We blow away every other nation as we spend $9,000 per capita yearly on care – about 17 percent of our gross domestic product.
However, we are far down the list, tied with Estonia and Montenegro, in quality of and access to health care. On a scale of 0 to 100, our overall grade point average is 81. That, to me, is a cruel joke. Top score went to Andorra, a little country in the Alps – boasting a score of 95. Big countries like Norway and Australia beat us with ease. Yes, this is hard to believe. Just check the article, published May 18 in The Lancet – the accurate, highly regarded journal from the U.K. It is all there.
Money is not the problem. How can we wear Gucci shoes while preemies die? How can we let our horn of plenty stop on Wall Street while addicts lives’ end as they wait in vain down the street for rehabilitation services? How can we spend $4 billion on another destroyer scraping its sides on the Panama Canal while health care-related bankruptcies humiliate Middle America?
Should we be sending billions to Egypt to buy tanks that shoot at each other? Or a billion to Ukraine for forgotten reasons?
I again submit: The time has come for Americans to take care of ourselves. Look over our northern border and we will see how it works – at huge savings. Note that the per capita cost of health care here has more than doubled since the publication of my 2000 Telegram op-ed – even though Canada has enjoyed both liberal and conservative governments during this time, with no change in the love for single-payer there.
The per capita cost of health care in Canada is a little less than half of what we pay in the U.S. Politics should not lead the way on how to fix your mother’s hip – or how to pay for it. We need more civilized ways to face these responsibilities. Virtually all polls agree with this position.
Personally, I have more at stake here. I do not want to wait another 17 years to see a change that is so critically needed now. I am sick of living under the bark of a tree. Please study the issues on switching to universal health care and single-payer. Then join Bernie Sanders and a huge majority of our fellow Americans in supporting single-payer care.