Last week, two events that will alter the social landscape in America made newspaper (there are some left) headlines. One was the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to end the private operation of prisons, a move likely influenced by a 2013 series by investigative reporter Pat Beall in the Palm Beach Post that won a national award. The series exposed rape, squalor, denial of medical treatment to inmates, even murder.
The second was the decision by Aetna Inc., the nation’s No. 3 health insurer, to pull out of Affordable Care Act health exchanges in 11 of the 17 states where it operates because it’s not profitable.
That, of course, triggered a blast from Republicans that Obamacare wasn’t working. Freedom-Works CEO Adam Brandon said, “Aetna’s withdrawal … is another sign that Obamacare is unsustainable.”
However, Kevin Counihan, CEO of the ACA Marketplace, noted that ACA “is serving more than 11 million people and has helped America reach the lowest uninsured rate on record.” Further, “incoming data continue to show that the future of the Marketplace is strong.”
Nonetheless, Aetna’s action shows that, even if Obamacare has advanced the accessibility of health care in this country, serious flaws remain. Bernie Sanders, who has long pushed for a single-payer system, by which Medicare would be extended to everyone, campaigned hard for it in his primary contest with Hillary Clinton, who only wanted to tweak Obamacare. If more insurance companies join Aetna in abandoning the exchanges, more than tweaking might be necessary. She has since voiced support for the public option, and would even consider expanding Medicare to everyone over 55.
Single payer works
As Sanders has pointed out repeatedly, every advanced nation in the world except the United States provides medical care to all of its people. Their governments administer the system, thereby saving enormous costs that accrue to the profit-oriented insurance companies, with their mega-million-dollar executive salaries. It shows: These countries’ costs for health care are far less than ours, yet the results are better. Most, if not all, rank higher than the U.S. in life expectancy and infant mortality.
“In my view,” Sanders said, “the provision of health care cannot continue to be dependent upon the whims and market projections of large private insurance companies whose only goal is to make as much profit as possible. That is why we need to join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care to all as a right, not a privilege. That is also why we need to pass a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.”
The senator said he would reintroduce legislation to bring that about, which might be feasible with a Democratic majority in the Senate. However, the powerful insurance company lobbyists have always been able to ward off any such action. These companies give generously to members of Congress, who reward them by spreading the false doctrine that “socialized medicine” (a misnomer) is evil.
Capitalism vs. socialism: a matter of degree
In the first place, a large part of medical care already is government operated: Medicare, Medicaid, veterans care, the Defense Department. And government is involved in virtually every other aspect of our lives: air traffic control, building codes, food standards and inspections, road and bridge construction, utility regulation, driver licenses, occupational licenses, and on and on. There is no purely capitalistic society. With the democratic socialism of Europe that Sanders prefers, industry is private, not government-owned. The same economic system prevails in the United States. The difference is that the wealth is distributed more evenly and equitably in Europe.
But Sanders’ idea is gaining support. The nonprofit organization Public Citizen is vigorously working to persuade the American public that a single-payer system would be far better for the people of this country than the present system with a profit-making middle man. Only weeks apart, I received literature from Public Citizen that spells out the reasons why we should switch.
Most poor countries allow their citizens to die if they can’t afford health care, and PC says a similar situation exists in America, where 45,000 people die every year from lack of health insurance. In most of the industrialized world, on the other hand, health care is a human right, and profiting off of basic health insurance is unlawful. Barack Obama favored such a system before he became president, whereupon he came head-to-head with its political inviability.
Medicare-for-all gaining ground
Now, however, 62 members of the House of Representatives from 23 states support single-payer Medicare-for-all legislation. California leads the way with 15 members, and New York is second with eight. The two other largest states, Florida and Texas, have only three each. Guess which party controls their governments: The GOP, of course.
Dr. Marcia Angell
PC quotes Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, as saying Medicare-for-all is the best health-care reform, the only one that will cover everybody and control costs. Most doctors and a majority of the American people support such a system, PC says, adding that it would save $350 billion a year in administrative costs, waste and profits. Those savings would be used to cover everyone. Medical bills are the number one cause of personal bankruptcies in the U.S.
One of the strongest ways single payer would save money would be through emphasis of prevention, which would make the population healthier. It also would cut drug prices by at least 40 percent. And it would, PC says, “be a powerful voice against the junk food, tobacco, alcohol and drug corporations that prey on the most vulnerable in our society.”
Health care for all
The way it works is by granting everyone a health insurance card at birth. Many people have the false notion that the government would choose patients’ doctors and hospitals. That’s how it works in the UK, which has pure socialized medicine. Single payer would provide free choice of any doctor or hospital in the country.
“We can’t wait because we know that health insurance costs are going to continue to spin out of control,” says PC. “Health insurance premiums are doubling every six years, and are likely to jump again this year.”
There may be reason for optimism. Privatization of health care is as bad as privatization of prisons, and look what is happening to the prison system.
The nonprofit concludes, “We need Medicare-for-All. We may need to win it state-by-state at first. But ultimately, it must become the law of the land.”
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