Standing Up for Single-Payer Healthcare

By Rebecca Mahn
The Doctor's Tablet Blog, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, June 16, 2016

There’s a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Now in my fourth year at Einstein, I am inspired by this ideal to fight for healthcare reform, specifically a single-payer national healthcare program.

Access and discrimination

Today, a form of systemic discrimination plagues the medical community: access to health insurance. In my rounds on the wards, I see the harmful side effects every single day of patients being uninsured. I vividly remember the father of two, dying of congestive heart failure because he could not afford the antihypertensive medications that would have protected his heart, and the graduate student who lost her insurance just as she became pregnant, causing her to miss weeks of valuable prenatal care. Clearly our current system is not working for patients.

Lack of insurance causes over 40,000 deaths per year, countless deferrals of necessary care and more than one-third of the bankruptcies in the nation. While the passage of the Affordable Care Act helped decrease the overall burden, more than 30 million Americans remain uninsured. Furthermore, the high costs and instability of insurance plans leave millions more underinsured. As a future doctor, I will not stand by and watch my patients suffer and die because they cannot pay for the care that I prescribe.

Changing the approach

The time has come for a new approach to providing healthcare. The United States is simultaneously the most powerful economy in the world and the only developed country that fails to provide healthcare to all of its citizens. We spend more than double what most nations spend on healthcare, yet achieve worse health outcomes across the board. With health insurance companies getting richer while the country gets sicker, it is time to replace this system.

Based on my experiences and those of the students and physicians I’ve encountered, I feel that only a single-payer, national health program can provide high-quality, equitable care to all Americans, redirecting dollars from insurance companies into real healthcare. This is well within our reach, as the estimated savings and efficiencies created by single-payer care would be enough to provide comprehensive coverage to everyone without costing any more than we currently pay for healthcare.

Medical students at Einstein and around the country are already taking action, speaking on campuses and to elected officials about valuing human health as opposed to making money off patient care. For the second year in a row, student lobbying helped pass the New York Health Act, which would provide universal care to all New Yorkers, through the state assembly. Though the act has failed to make it through the New York state senate, the continued support for this effort reflects a true interest in extending coverage to everyone.

Additionally, Einstein’s Students for a National Health Program chapter built a website to publicly display the names of students and faculty who support single-payer healthcare. Despite formidable opposition to the idea from pharmaceutical and insurance companies, I believe that physicians, health professionals and patients are unstoppable if they unite their voices and offer their names in support of an idea whose time has truly come.

Rebecca Mahn is a fourth-year medical student getting a dual M.D./MSc degree through Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Clinical Research Training Program. She plans to apply into obstetrics and gynecology.