By Bill Honigman, M.D.
The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.), March 21, 2019
While working as an emergency-room physician in Orange County, I learned that most patients who entered our doors shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Whether it was diabetes, high blood pressure or painful tooth infections, many had failed to get the basic care they needed over time. Largely due to cost, they had fallen through the cracks of our current healthcare system, one that’s becoming more unaffordable by the day.
Some had limbs amputated due to easily treatable diabetes or heart disease. Others died of strokes or heart attacks brought on by neglected high blood pressure or diabetes.
But today there’s hope. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington has just introduced a new Medicare-for-all bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. This means that our country has another chance to get health care right.
We the people deserve a just system, one that promotes our general welfare while ensuring peace of mind. We deserve a healthcare system that’s paid for by all of its users. And one that takes care of everyone’s needs regardless of wealth, health or employment like every other large, rich country in the world already has.
Today, we’re at the mercy of insurance and pharmaceutical companies that are more concerned with profiteering than your family’s health and well-being.
You’ve probably heard of San Fernando Valley teen Nataline Sarkisyan, who died in 2007 after her insurance company initially denied her a liver transplant that doctors said would likely keep her alive. You may also know about the outrageous cost of simple yet life-saving drugs, such as Epi-Pen for allergic reactions. It’s reached $300 a dose.
A single-payer system like Medicare for All would save money and focus on quality medical care in part by eliminating the middlemen — the insurance companies. It would also give us the bargaining power that we the people need to control rising prescription drug costs, much like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does.
But perhaps what’s most compelling is how much we will save.
While funding for Jayapal’s bill has yet to be identified, an economic analysis of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All Act of 2017 found that middle-income families’ healthcare spending as a share of income would fall between 2.6 and 14 percent, depending on how they were currently insured.
Healthcare costs would rise for the highest income families but even so, they would spend no more than 4.7 percent of their income for health coverage under that previous plan. (While the 2017 and 2019 bills are similar, they are not identical and these figures may differ.)
How would we pay for such a system? Jayapal has suggested that funding could be achieved with a mix of taxes, including mandatory employer contributions and “a wealth tax.” Savings from simplified billing, cost controls and other changes would lower overall U.S. spending on health care.
Meanwhile, Americans would no longer have to pay rising insurance premiums, high deductibles or co-payments.
Sound too good to be true? While some are decrying a potential “government takeover” of health care, Medicare for All would allow we the people to decide our health priorities and where that money is spent instead of insurance companies. And we would still be able to keep all of our doctors, clinics, and hospitals we now use.
It would also make doctors’ lives significantly easier, reducing physician burnout and subsequent mistakes , by eliminating the administrative hassles that come with a multi-payer system.
Several years after the implementation of Obamacare, some 264,000 Orange County residents were living without health insurance in 2017. Thousands more are underinsured.
This means that many residents who have chronic illnesses, as well as mental health and substance abuse disorders, are not getting the treatment or medicine they need to lead healthy, productive lives. The toll this takes on these patients and their families — and subsequently our businesses and community — is, well, staggering.
Medicare for All would also alleviate the financial and administrative burden that small businesses bear when sponsoring health insurance for their employees.
This is not rocket science. It’s time for all U.S. residents to unite and fight for the right to a dignified healthcare system. I urge you to educate yourself, organize and call your federal lawmakers at 202-224-3121 to express support of Jayapal’s lifesaving bill.
As the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota said: “We all do better when we all do better.”
Dr. Bill Honigman worked as an emergency room doctor for more than 30 years, mostly in Orange County, before retiring nearly two years ago. He’s a member of Physicians for a National Health Program.