Town Meeting is coming up, and Putney residents will have a chance to join the groundswell of support for a single-payer national health plan. Article #12 on the Town Meeting warning calls on senators Leahy and Sanders and Representative Welch to work vigorously to enact emergency legislation to ensure everyone gets the care they need during the pandemic, as well as federal legislation that provides universal, comprehensive health care coverage, with no deductibles, copays, or other out-of-pocket costs.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 30 million people in the U.S. had no health insurance, and about 50 million were underinsured. The pandemic has caused millions more to lose coverage because of losing their jobs. Indeed the pandemic has given us perspective on an array of injustices in our health care delivery system — including the lack of an adequate public health infrastructure, the racial disparities in access to care, the rationing of care based on ability to pay, and hospitals’ concentration on lucrative cardiac and orthopedic services rather than mental health and primary care.
The U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care as other high-income countries that provide universal coverage, and yet our health outcomes are worse. Life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than that in 30 other countries. Our infant mortality is three times higher than it is in economically comparable countries.
This past November, the Vermont Medical Society, representing 2,400 Vermont physicians and physician assistants, became the second state in the nation to formally endorse universal access to high quality health care through a publicly financed, single-payer national health program. This endorsement builds on the growing movement among physicians and other health professionals towards single-payer reform, also known as Medicare-for-All.
In December, the Congressional Budget Office reported that Medicare-for-All would extend coverage to everyone, yet would save $650 billion each year, by 2030. Putney voters can add their town to the more than 50 municipalities which have passed resolutions endorsing Medicare-for-All, including Philadelphia, Detroit, Knoxville and New Orleans. In New Hampshire, voters in Hanover, Grantham, Peterborough and Holderness have passed similar resolutions.
The issue of health care reform has an enormous impact on the town of Putney and its residents. Under a single-payer health care system, all our residents would be covered for medical needs in a comprehensive way, with no out-of-pocket expenses. The health of our community would benefit tremendously under this system, and disparities would be lessened. Moreover, our town would realize tremendous savings; in 2021, the town of Putney will spend $197,000 on health care costs for its 10 employees, but under Medicare-for-All, the town’s cost would drop to about $45,000 — an annual savings of around $150,000. In addition, the 2020 health care costs for Putney Central School employees were $475,000, much of which is paid for by property taxes; under Medicare-for-All, the only expense for health care coverage would be an 8 percent employer-side tax on employees’ salaries, amounting to about $140,000, yielding significantly lower property taxes for residents of Putney.
Getting everyone in the U.S. covered for their health care needs is vital to achieving health, economic and racial justice. The passage of Medicare in 1965 not only provided health insurance for the elderly, it also eliminated segregation in hospitals and helped decrease racial disparities. Only the top executives of the highly profitable insurance and pharmaceutical corporations benefit from the current health care system. But health is not a marketable product; just like education and fire protection, it is a “public good.” Our democracy and our economy are strengthened if everyone is healthy and educated. Medicare-for-All is the only way to control costs, achieve equity and fairness, and improve outcomes. Passing Resolution #12 on the Putney warning is part of the nationwide political momentum to guarantee health care for all, regardless of race, income, or employment status.
Dr. Jane Katz Field is a retired local pediatrician. She is vice president of the Vermont Chapter of the Physicians for a National Health Program.