Universal Medicare would cut the costs of health care

By F. Douglas Stephenson, LCSW, BCD
The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, May 31, 2015

No greater disconnect exists between the public good and private interests than in the U.S. system of for-profit health insurance.

With the Affordable Care Act, the health insurance industry successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to enact a requirement that most non-elderly Americans become compulsory customers and approve taxpayer financing of massive subsidies for the private insurance industry. Americans have been forced to purchase the product of a particular private industry, plus fund tax-financed subsidies for the insurance industry in the amount of a half-trillion dollars per decade.

To protect profits, the private health insurance industry and their Congressional supporters oppose universal Medicare, or single-payer/public health insurance. Private health insurance companies know that with low administrative costs and no need to produce profits, a universal Medicare insurance plan would have pricing advantages for the American public.

Research in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that administration consumes a total of 31 percent of U.S. health spending, most of it waste and much of that waste attributable to private insurance company overhead and profit. If the single-payer plan pays health care professionals, hospitals and drug companies at levels comparable to Medicare’s current substantially lower rates, premiums for all individuals and families could be so low that the public plan could consume the market and end private health insurance.

Often the public is confused when they conflate the “socialized medicine” label with single-payer, Medicare-for-all “socialized health insurance.” Whatever the pros/cons of socialized medicine, national Medicare for all is not socialized medicine.

Socialized medicine is a system in which doctors and hospitals work for and draw salaries from the government. Health-care professionals in the U.S. Veterans Administration and the armed services are paid this way. The good health systems in Great Britain and in Spain are other examples.

Most European countries, Canada, Australia and Japan have socialized health insurance, not socialized medicine. The government pays for care that is delivered in the private (mostly not-for-profit) sector. This is similar to how Medicare works in this country. Doctors are in private practice and are paid on a fee-for-service basis from government funds. The government does not own or manage medical or mental health practices or hospitals.

The U.S. subscribes to a private business model for health insurance that defines insurers as commercial entities. Private health insurers maximize profits by mainly limiting benefits or by not covering people with health problems. Like all businesses, their goal is to make money. Under this business model of health insurance, the greed of casual inhumanity is built in and the common good of the citizens and nation is ignored. Excluding many in the middle class, the poor, the aged, the disabled and the mentally ill is sound business practice policy since it maximizes profit.

Today we still have tens of millions of individuals without insurance, many more who are underinsured, many who have impaired access to their physicians because of insurer network restrictions, many who face financial hardship when health needs arise, and an outrageously expensive system due to the profound administrative waste of the insurers and the burden they place on the health care delivery system when profit is required.

Almost none of these problems would exist if the government instead of the private insurers served us as the health care financing authority. It is inhumane to allow consumer-directed, moral-hazard based private health policies to erect barriers to health care for millions of citizens with minimal or modest resources.

Universal Medicare is a solid investment in our country and all of its citizens. This investment simply promotes a social service for universal access to affordable health care for all.

Aren’t we a society that cares enough to see that everyone receive the health care they need? That’s the basic point of universal Medicare, and it’s the right thing to do now. You can help by asking your congressman to support the new “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” H.R. 676 now in Congress.

F. Douglas Stephenson is former president of the Florida Society for Clinical Social Work. He lives in Inglis.