Business breakfast speaker discusses single-payer health care

By Josh Moniz, Staff Writer
The Journal (New Ulm, Minn.), Dec. 10, 2011

Physicians for a National Health Program-Minnesota hosted an informational presentation for business owners on single-payer health care Friday at the New Ulm Country Club.

Single-payer health care is funded by a single entity, usually a government, that collects all health care fees and pays out all costs. The method would allow universal health care, and hospital billings would be nearly eliminated.

The speaker for the event was David Steil, a Pennsylvania resident who served as a Republican legislator for 17 years and has been a business owner for 35 years. He is currently the president of Health Care for All-Pennsylvania.

Steil said his support for a single-payer system came from his time as a business owner and a legislator. He said he concluded that businesses were not the proper entity to provide health insurance.

"I quickly came to the conclusion, 'Why am I involved in health care [as a business owner]?' I don't have the expertise. Many small businesses are in the same situation, but still need to offer health insurance to be competitive," said Steil.

He said the current system causes premiums and health care costs to skyrocket while making it more difficult for people to get access. He said the current system is poised to implode the country's health care system.

He said he came to support single-payer plans despite being a Republican legislator while researching methods for addressing the health care issues.

"I believe, as a fiscal conservative, you'll ultimately have to accept some form of single-payer system," said Steil. "My belief is that government exists solely to provide what we can't do for ourselves. I consider health care the same as the government providing for the education system or filling a pothole in the street. Many of us don't have the knowledge to do it ourselves."

He said there would have to be several requirements for a single-payer system to be successful.

First, he said, it would have to be universally available to all.

Second, he said, it would have to be driven by the free market. He said the current problem with health care is that it is operating at the insurance company level instead of at the provider level.

"So much of the cost is driven up, even if insurance companies want to it lower, because of all the administrative costs. So many people are needed for the paperwork because its so inefficient," said Steil.

He said a single-payer system would essentially eliminate massive administrative costs, making care more affordable, and it would make it possible for the government to keep costs under control.

Third, he said, a single-payer system would have to be funded by a naturally appreciating tax to keep pace with inflation and provide fairness for taxpayers.

"We're still determining the right number, but we're considering a 3 percent income tax on individuals and a 10 percent tax on payrolls for businesses in Pennsylvania," said Steil. "People may jump at the 10 percent, but when we talked with U.S. Steel [in Pennsylvania] about the idea, they were already spending 17 percent on health care costs."

He also said the 3 percent tax was almost guaranteed to be much smaller than what most people pay now for health care, especially when the administrative costs are reduced.

Finally, he said the system would help address the biggest burden on health care systems, long-term or chronic illness, by being able to allow physicians to perform more preventative measures. He said the current problem is many don't address serious issues, like diabetes, until they hit 65 and obtain government care. He said at that point, prevention is usually impossible and the situation is so severe little can be done.

Steil said his points were why he took issue with the health care overhaul passed under President Obama. He said it forced businesses to be the main supplier of health care while failing to address the root causes of increased health care cost.

Steil then addressed two criticisms of the single-payer plan.

He said many believe big government is completely incapable of administrating properly.

"That's not right. Right now, between 40 and 50 percent of all health care is already delivered by the government. It's done through Medicare, Medicaid and health care for the military," said Steil.

He also said there was a concern of state sovereignty.

"That's why we're specifically pushing for state plans system. For example, Minnesota is already starting to work on one," said Steil.

Additionally, he addressed what he called misinformation about other countries that used single-payer systems.

"The claims that Canada's health care is so bad they come down here has absolutely no data to support it. Similarly, the claims that England has huge wait times is off. There is some waiting, but no more than you typically see here for some procedures. Also, you get to go in immediately if it's an emergency," said Steil.

He said there has also been misinformation denying how outsized U.S. health care cost are compared to other countries. He said the U.S. spend one-third to one-half more per capita on health care than any other country.

Steil answered some questions from those attending. One expressed concern about legislators being unable work together and the effect of this inability if they administered health care.

He said the system would be run by a board filled with people selected by the respective legislature, but the legislature would not have direct oversight and control of the board.

Another asked if people would have to make sacrifices under such a system because of set funding.

Steil said it would be addressed by allowing doctors to be more entrepreneurial.

"If they want to offer you services beyond the reimbursements, that's fine. We want them to compete for your businesses to give you the best care," said Steil.

Steil concluded by saying that businesses would have to take the lead in lobbying for a single-payer system. He said they would not only show legislators how much support there is, but they would also be addressing an issue that is poised to be a serious problem for them.