Should Massachusetts adopt a single payer healthcare system?

By Jim Bennett
The Boston Globe, April 26, 2015

From 2007 to 2008, I enjoyed the best health insurance plan I have ever known. I was allowed to choose any primary care physician in my neighborhood who had room for new patients. My prescriptions all came with the same negligible copay, and I could have them filled at any pharmacy. I never received a single bill for a doctor’s appointment or emergency room visit. In fact, the only paperwork I ever handled were my prescriptions and the reminder card for my next appointment.

My mystery insurer? It was the British National Health Service.

While my description of life on NHS may sound like an impossible dream to many people in Massachusetts, it is the daily reality known to millions in dozens of prosperous countries across the developed world. Some of them, such as the UK, opt for healthcare that is entirely government-run. Others, such as Canada and Australia, opt for a single-payer system, whereby hospitals and medical practices are privately managed, but a single government agency handles medical payments. In other words, it’s much like Medicare, but for everyone.

Many arguments for a single-payer system start from a moral premise. I would appeal to rational self-interest. We now spend far more money on healthcare than any nation with a single-payer system, about twice as much per capita than Canadians, for example. In Canada, rather than having private insurers work out payment plans with hospitals and pharmaceuticals that create inflated profits, provincial governments act as consumer advocates to ensure that prices remain at market rates. Moreover, because everyone is insured and there are no financial incentives for costly procedures, treatable conditions receive attention early on and do not reach crisis phase. Finally, in what may sound like irony to some, government management of healthcare significantly reduces the costly and stress-inducing red tape and bureaucracy that characterizes our current system.

Imagine a world where businesses would raise up their part-time workers to full-time status without worrying about the cost to their company health plan; where individuals would not have to wade through an ocean of paperwork after a brief stay in the hospital; and where no one would ever again face medical bankruptcy just to remain alive. All that is possible in Massachusetts if we decide to follow the successful lead of so many other nations, and lead our own nation into a more healthy and cost-effective future by adopting a single-payer system.

Jim Bennett is a member of the Melrose Democratic City Committee.