Why some doctors want the government to handle all health insurance

By Baylee Pulliam
Louisville Business First, May 10, 2016

There are a lot of ways to get health insurance — but not everyone does.

Right now, there are multiple payers, including private companies and the federal government. But a new proposal from the Physicians for a National Health Program advocacy group suggests there should be only one.

Proponents in Louisville rallied Tuesday near the University of Louisville School of Medicine to discuss the proposal, which calls for all health insurance to be administered by the federal government — the "single-payer" — as Medicare is now.

So far, the proposal so far has signatures from more than 2,200 physicians and 149 students across the country.

Under the proposal, everyone would get a National Health Program (NHP) card, which they could use to get care at any doctor's office or hospital, with no bills or co-pays for covered services. (Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also has supported a similar payer plan.)

PNHP also says a single-payer system would reduce overhead for health care providers, who now have to employ additional staff and spend more time filling out paper work and tracking down insurance information from multiple sources.

Because the providers would spend less to provide care, they could charge less, which would make it more affordable for the federal government to provide coverage, according to PNHP.

PNHP says that if the U.S. had the same level of per-capita health care spending as Canada, which uses a similar system, it would free up about $500 billion per year toward the cost of providing that care.

But, of course, if the government is the single payer, there's the question of what happens to private insurers such as Louisville's Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM).

That's still not clear, but Dr. Barbara Casper, professor at the U of L School of Medicine and a supporter of the PNHP proposal, said there are a few possibilities. One is that they go away entirely, and their employees could be retrained for new jobs or go to work for the government.

Another possibility is that they continue to exist, but offer optional, additional coverage for those who choose to buy it.

The idea behind the plan is to give everyone access to the same basic health care coverage, Casper said.

Casper, who has practiced medicine for 34 years, said more people have coverage since the Affordable Care Act was passed. "But I've still admitted three patients today who had no insurance."

A national health plan also would lessen the burden on employers, some of which are opting to pay the $2,000 penalty for not providing coverage to their workforces because that costs less.

"Businesses don't provide car insurance," said Dr. Syed Quadri, a private practice internist from Elizabethtown and supporter of PNHP. "Why should they provide health insurance? When businesses are free from this task, they can focus on business."

Baylee Pulliam covers these beats: health care, health insurance, media/marketing and technology.