Who’s talking single payer today? You might be surprised—a lot of people and organizations. Don’t think for a minute that those fighting for the only real solution to health care reform in this country have gone away. Quite the contrary.
Two recent headlines sum up the reason why so many continue to push for single payer. In its simplest form, as long as for-profit insurers drive health care delivery in this country, we will never break through to join the rest of the educated world who have found ways to provide universal coverage for their citizens. Until we reach the point of understanding the basic concept that health care is a human right and not a for-profit commodity, we will continue to see headlines like those below:
For the 5th consecutive year, the Commonwealth Fund report ranked the United States last in its ranking of industrialized nation’s and their health care systems. Compared to others such as Germany, France, Switzerland, and Australia, the US lags far behind when it comes to ensuring health care access, efficiency, and equity. The headline that made the round last week tells what so many already know: The U.S. Has The Most Expensive And Least Effective Health Care In The Developed World.
And Wendell Potter reminded us about what happens when we let the for-profits manage that part of Medicare called Medicare Advantage. The headline on his column: Insurers Are Fleecing Us Out of Billions While Congress Looks the Other Way. (It’s one of the reasons I cringe when people describe single payer as “Medicare For All.” Before we seek Medicare For All, we need to make the for-profits and Medicare Advantage a thing of the past.).
So, what is happening to keep the discussion of single payer alive in the health care reform discussion in the post Affordable Care Act implementation world?
We here at Wisdom Voices recently re-connected with Donna Smith, executive director of Health Care for All Colorado. Look for our conversations on Progressive Voices on TuneIn. As part of that discussion, we talked about health care as a human right. She told us, “…when people throw it back at me and ask me why I think health care is a right I tell them in order to live in a free society you aren’t free if you struggle to have access to health care. How can you look at the face of a child wheezing with asthma and tell me they don’t serve health care because they don’t have enough money.”
And she said, don’t look to Washington, D.C. for change; look to the states. “The National Congress is powerless,” she said. “The action and energy is falling into the states’ laps and that puts us in an exciting place. I’d look to New York, who has the longest standing single payer bill (ready to be enacted), Minnesota, where there’s been a lot of activity and California, where many believe if California goes for single payer, it could start a national trend.”
And our friends at the Labor Campaign For Single Payer, who remain the ever-vigilant supporter of a single payer health care system, echo the same sentiments. In a recent “Labor Notes,” they report: “ Following the lead of tiny Vermont, advocates of Medicare for All are developing state campaigns to win health care that eliminates insurance companies and covers everyone.”
The recent news out of Vermont indicates the legislature keeps rolling along—seeking bids to hire an analyst to help design the single payer system.
And Labor For Single Payer has a great in-depth video with Dr. Andy Coates, national president of PNHP and a former labor activist from his recent presentation in Chicago. Entitled “Beyond Obamacare: Why Labor Deserves Better, he urges, “we need to keep indicting the failure of the system and reminding people we have something that works. We can do this.” For the complete interview see below.
Speaking of Vermont…Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a Single Payer Lobby Day on Capitol Hill in May at which time he said: “This is tough stuff. Single-payer health care bills – it ain’t going to take place here in Washington. I suspect it’s going to take place, as it did in Canada, with a state [Saskatchewan] going forward. I hope it will be my state.” That Lobby Day in May encompassed 10 organizing groups that included Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Public Citizen, American Medical Student Association (AMSA), NOW, Healthcare-Now, Gray Panthers, National Nurses United and several other labor groups.
And if you can’t get enough of Bernie Sanders, listen to what he had to say recently to a gathering in Evanston, Illinois, in support of the great group producing the movie “The Good Doctor Young.” In two minutes Bernie nails it:
The VA and Single Payer
Did you take a deep breath and think single payer took a hit after the recent VA scandal about wait times to see a physician? PNHP reminds us why the opposite is true with their release of information on that very topic, which included the following:
But the longest and most onerous waits are associated with the time it takes to determine if veterans are eligible to receive care at the VA, and at what level. This determination is done precisely because the VA is not a single-payer system. It doesn’t cover everyone; it’s not accessible to every veteran; it is just one payer among many in our fragmented system. Currently about 2.3 million veterans and their family members are completely uninsured. In contrast, a single-payer national health program would cover everyone and allow them to choose any provider and source of care in the U.S.
And on the same topic, Paul Krugman pulled no punches when he described the story behind the story of the VA scandal in a recent New York Times piece. And he strikes at the very heart of the problem here: Heath care for-profit vs. health care as a human right. In it he wrote:
“…But the goings-on at Veterans Affairs shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of a much bigger scandal: the almost surreal inefficiency and injustice of the American health care system as a whole. And it’s important to understand that the Veterans Affairs scandal, while real, is being hyped out of proportion by people whose real goal is to block reform of the larger system.
And, in America, medical costs often cause financial distress to an extent that doesn’t happen in any other advanced nation….Other advanced countries don’t suffer from comparable problems because private gain is less of an issue. Outside the U.S., the government generally provides health insurance directly, or ensures that it’s available from tightly regulated nonprofit insurers; often, many hospitals are publicly owned, and many doctors are public employees.”
Don’t think for an instant that the push for single payer has slowed. How can you help? Get involved. Financially support groups advocating for single payer. Read more about the issue. Find out if your state has a PNHP chapter or a group pushing for single payer. Talk about it. For even with the news out of Minnesota that 95 percent of its population is now insured, that still means 5 percent is not. And how many of the 95 percent still struggle to make premium payments or have high copays and deductibles? And the ACA does nothing to stop medical bankruptcy for those still on point for high deductibles. And how many of us still delay care because of that? If other nations can provide their citizens with 100 percent coverage at affordable rates with outcomes that top the charts, why can’t we?