Medicare model for health-bill fix

By Robert Stone
Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Ind.)
Published: February 4, 2010

“If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.” In his State of the Union address Jan. 27, the president admitted that his plan for health care reform has run into trouble.

President Obama has often said, “If I were starting from scratch … I would go with a single-payer system.” Medicare, which takes care of our seniors, is such a system.

It is an American legacy that we can be proud of, running 3 percent overhead, as opposed to private insurance’s 20 percent.

Is it time to “start from scratch”? The Democrats surrendered in advance to the private insurers and drug companies that profit from our dysfunctional health financing system, and now the American people find themselves confused, frightened and frustrated.

Republicans have scorned bipartisanship and embraced obstructionism.

Back home in Indiana, Indianapolis-based Anthem/WellPoint reported fourth quarter profits of $2.7 billion – despite losing 1.4 million customers in 2009. Premiums were up, and the stock price has more than doubled since last March. There is something wrong with this picture.

WellPoint’s profits are soaring as they cover a million fewer people. They have spent tens of millions on lobbying this year, and now that the Supreme Court ruling eliminates limits on corporate spending, their huge pot of cash will buy even more influence.

A single-payer, improved Medicare-for-all reform would lower costs, cover the uninsured and upgrade coverage for most Americans. It would prove sustainable and hugely popular.

Under Medicare, patients have the freedom to choose their doctor and hospital and are free from the fear of financial catastrophe.

An easy way to start moving in that direction was suggested last month in the Senate – begin by expanding Medicare down to age 55. It’s a compelling argument.

The cost of doing nothing is too great. We know that rising premiums and the lagging economy will cause even more employers to drop health benefits.

As more of us become uninsured, research predicts that at least 45,000 will die this year from lack of access to medical care, and millions will go bankrupt.

Tell the president and Congress there is one national security issue, one economic security issue, that we must push forward on – quality, affordable health care for all.

The issues are not simple and the forces against reform are powerful, but we have come too far to turn back.

Dr. Robert Stone practices emergency medicine in Bloomington. He is director of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan and a member of Physicians for a National Health Program. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.