The real value of Medicare

By Arthur J. Sutherland III, M.D.
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.), Jan. 9, 2012

Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, made this comment last summer on the Dollars & Sense: Real World Economics website:

"America's broken health care system suffers from what appear to be two separate problems. From the right, a chorus warns of the dangers of rising costs; we on the left focus on the growing number of people going without health care because they lack adequate insurance. ... But the division between the problem of cost and the problem of coverage is misguided. It is founded on the assumption ... that the current market system is efficient. Instead, however, the current system is inherently inefficient; it is the very source of the rising cost pressures. In fact, the only way we can control health care costs and avoid fiscal and economic catastrophe is to establish a single-payer system with universal coverage."

Friedman makes the salient point that our entire health care delivery system is unsustainable. It's not just Medicare and the other public programs. Medicare is a very successful program that covers seniors and anyone disabled. This is a fragile group of patients who need protection -- not cuts in their medical needs.

I would agree that Medicare is not perfect. It has been manipulated by the medical industries' influence over Congress and needs to be fixed to function correctly. We need a national health program like all other capitalistic nations already have in one fashion or another that is suitable to them.

In the U.S., the best way to do this is to cover everyone by expanding and improving Medicare for All. This is not socialized medicine -- just a single-payer system that will allow for planning and implementation of health care delivery that will finally cover everyone in America, control long-term costs and improve quality of health care delivery.

As the political rhetoric against Medicare starts anew this election year, let us be aware that improved Medicare for All is the start of the solution in solving our spiraling health care costs -- not the problem.

Arthur J. Sutherland III, M.D., is Tennessee coordinator and a national board member of Physicians for a National Health Program. He resides in Memphis.