By F. Douglas Stephenson
The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, March 23, 2020
An old social justice chant, “Why are We Waiting,” is sung to the tune of the beautiful and inspiring Christmas carol, “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The lyrics apply to the situation today: Even with the dangerous coronavirus pandemic, big insurance and big pharma continue opposing legislation for the new Medicare for All.
We still wait because these resistant, self-serving industries have the most to lose if their huge profits are redirected to direct patient care for all. Individual and corporate predators regard democracy, government and community as obstacles to their greed and avarice, always placing profits over individual patients, families and public health. It’s no wonder so many beholden members of Congress want to protect the interests of big insurance and big pharma, industries that spent $371 million on lobbying in 2017 alone.
Dealing with the COVID-19 virus would be more life-saving if Medicare for All was in place today. A recent New York Times editorial, “With Coronavirus, ‘Health Care for Some’ Is a Recipe for Disaster,” stresses the importance of covering everyone.
Even before COVID-19 was known to humans, Northeastern University professor of public health Wendy Parmet presciently warned that the push to exclude immigrants from access to health-care services would be both dangerous and quixotic.
“None of us can be self-sufficient in the face of a widespread epidemic,” she wrote in 2018. “That is just as true for noncitizen immigrants as everyone.” In any pandemic, self-sufficiency can be self-deluding; everyone’s health, citizens, immigrants, etc. alike is only as good as our most vulnerable neighbors.
In what is truly a recipe for disaster, vested interests reject the science of public health epidemiology by asserting that only an incremental approach to health insurance reform is possible or acceptable. So, what are we willing to settle for, and should we just settle for what we can get? Should we lower the expectations, turn down the public heat and keep waiting?
Gradualism, baby steps and extending health insurance coverage to some, but not all, are the mantra of the day. “Medicare for some,” but not Medicare for All, is fawned over by politicians, profiteers and advocacy groups alike while reducing communities resources to deal with dangerous epidemics.
Virtually all the risky gradual reforms being touted would reinforce a dysfunctional health insurance system with as many standards of insurance as there are dollars to purchase them. It would further lock us into an obsolete private insurance-based model that holds everyone’s health hostage to profiteering HMOs and unaccountable big insurance companies for years to come.
For these proponents of political expediency, the question remains, who will be left behind while we wait? Every year, well over 18,000 unnecessary deaths, the equivalent of six times the number who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, are linked to lack of health insurance coverage. Pandemics can quickly increase these numbers.
Our most successful national health insurance program, Medicare, provides one of the best arguments against incremental steps. When Medicare was enacted 55 years ago, following a broad grassroots campaign, many believed the dream of a full national health insurance system was right around the corner.
Five decades later, Medicare still has not been expanded. Most of the changes have been contractions with higher out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries and repeated attempts at privatization by big pharma, the health insurance industry and its champions in the White House and Congress.
It’s time to end inadequate and dangerous health insurance programs. Insist on real health insurance reform essential for individuals and families.
American history is filled with examples of fundamental, democratic change brought about by successful mass action and public pressure against the counseling of the go slow, vested interest crowd. No more waiting! Ask your legislators to fully support Medicare For All now: HR-1384/S-1129.
F. Douglas Stephenson, LCSW, BCD, is a retired clinical social work psychotherapist. Formerly on the faculty of the University of Florida Department of Psychiatry, he is a health professional member of Physicians for a National Health Program.