It's time for single-payer, universal health care

By Pat Barcas
Fox Valley Labor News, May 15, 2014

CHICAGO — Discussion about single payer, universal health care has been ongoing for the last 100 years. Now, Dr. Andrew Coates says the fight is about to come to an impasse — this country needs universal health care to move forward.

“This is something that every first world, civilized country has,” said Coates at a special Chicago conference entitled “Beyond Obamacare” May 8.

Dr. Coates is president of Physicians for a National Health Program. He is chief of hospital medicine at Samaritan Hospital in Troy, N.Y., and an assistant professor of medicine and psychiatry at Albany Medical College. He previously served on the statewide executive board of the Public Employees Federation, AFL-CIO, and founded Single Payer New York, a statewide grassroots coalition of single-payer organizations and activists.

He criticized the Affordable Care Act, saying it will leave 30 million uninsured once fully implemented. It’s also wasteful, costing $368 million just to set up the New York state marketplace.

Under the current system, Coates said, 60 percent of those filing for bankruptcy due to health care bills have health insurance. Deductibles eat up savings. Households have to pick which bills to pay, or permanently forgo necessary surgeries.

There are fewer people going to the emergency room now, said Coates, but admissions into the hospital are on the rise.

“There are fewer ER visits because it’s so expensive, but people are becoming much sicker,” he said.

Coates said there are no legitimate downsides to single-payer: It’’s cheaper in the long run, it levels racial and wealth disparities, it makes for a healthier populace, and there’s a reliable model right next door in Canada.

“Imagine the liberation of working people. It’s very profound,” he said. “We’re up against the whole establishment. They don’t want it. This is a basic economic right.”

He called on unions to lead the charge in changing public opinion, and turn the political tide toward voting for single-payer.

“Unions have the expertise — how to organize, how to lead the fight,” he said.

A major argument against the single-payer system in Canada, Coates said, is that there can be a waiting list for non life-threatening surgery, such as knee surgery.

“In Canada, sure, you may wait weeks to get elective surgery, but it’s free at the point of service. Here in America, the wait time is infinity if you can’t afford it,” he said. “Imagine if you don’t have to worry about paying for you or your child’s care — we have the expectation that we’re free, but we aren’t until we all have health care. We just don’t have the political will.”

The event was co-sponsored by Physicians for a National Health Program and the Illinois Single Payer Coalition.