We need universal health care coverage for all

By Hedda Haning, M.D.
Sunday Gazette-Mail (Charleston, W.Va.), April 1, 2012

It was flattering to be quoted in the Gazette editorial March 26 when the Gazette could have used any number of authoritative resources to demonstrate the problems associated with private for-profit health insurance. For example, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), of which I am a member, has produced many studies over the years, published in prestigious journals, showing the negative health effects for the American people of putting profit before care.

Here is their statement in response to the current Supreme Court Hearing on the Affordable Care Act: "Regardless of whether the Supreme Court upholds or overturns the Affordable Care Act in whole or in part, the unfortunate reality is that federal health law of 2010 will not work: (1) it will not achieve universal coverage, as it leaves at least 26 million uninsured, (2) it will not make health care affordable to Americans with insurance, because gaps in their policies will leave them vulnerable to bankruptcy in the event of major illness, and (3) it will not control costs.

“Why? Because the ACA perpetuates a dominant role for the private insurance industry. That industry siphons off hundreds of billions of health care dollars annually for overhead, profit and the paperwork it demands from doctors and hospitals; it denies care to increase insurers' bottom line; and it obstructs any serious effort to control costs.

“In contrast, a single-payer, improved-Medicare-for-all system would achieve all three goals -- truly universal, comprehensive coverage; health security for our patients and their families; and cost control. It would do so by replacing private insurers with a single, nonprofit agency such as Medicare that pays all medical bills, streamlines administration, and reins in costs for medications and other supplies through its bargaining clout."

Let me emphasize two other points. First, an all-inclusive national health program -- call it Medicare for All -- would be excellent for the economy. Under such a program Mary Brown from Florida would not have gone bankrupt and she and her husband could have kept their auto shop open. The same dilemma has ruined many small business people. Under Medicare for All, the Browns would pay a national tax appropriate to their income, a payroll tax, and all bills for necessary medical care would have been paid for them.

A major obstacle to changing our way of financing health care is that there are powerful very rich people who don't want to pay a national tax appropriate to their incomes to support such a program. We certainly know that from past history as the wealthy have always resisted paying fair taxes for Social Security and Medicare. The rest of us do our taxes, but they won't. Why would anyone think the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes? What a weird idea (joke).

It was shown years ago in the American automobile industry that the cost of health insurance was more per car than the cost of steel. That has not changed, and it is one thing that has driven our Big 3 to do much of their manufacturing in Canada. So you see corporations capable of moving out are not above taking advantage of another country's tax supported health care system.

Additionally, West Virginia improvement in health care cost and coverage reported in the editorial comes principally from extending and increasing the coverage under Medicaid. I agree that is a plus -- except that whenever we aim a benefit at just one group, it is easy for others to be resentful. It is easy to point a finger at those "poor, fat, lazy, undeserving jerks that are living off our tax support when they really should just get off their butts and find a job." You have all heard that kind of comment in relation to every program for the less fortunate among us.

That is one reason that I came to the conclusion long ago that we must have the same program for everyone: universal coverage for all, fair for everybody. We must take care of everyone equally if the system is to work and be supported as Social Security and Medicare are -- by a wide margin.

That is the American way we all learned about in school, justice and equality for all.

Hedda Haning is a Charleston physician.