About a month ago, I posted a blog (click here to read) making the case that Obamacare has failed to achieve its primary objective of providing affordable healthcare for all Americans. While 17 million more Americans now have health coverage under Obamacare, it is far from affordable and there are still almost 30 million Americans who lack any form of healthcare. My suggestion was to repeal Obamacare and replace it by expanding Medicare and Medicaid, so that all Americans would be guaranteed access to basic healthcare.
The reaction to the blog was swift and sometime acerbic. Comments split pretty much along party lines, but by far most of those who opposed my proposal did so by criticizing it as a “single-payer” system. I was not surprised by that, but that argument is an old dog that just won’t hunt any longer.
You see, “single-payer” is a dog-whistle phrase the insurance industry – and their lobbyist friends – created and have used for decades to protect their turf in the healthcare business. The “single-payer” concept has become a code-word derisively repeated ad nauseam by the insurance industry and its supporters, arguing that “single-payer” is a dark conspiracy of the part of the government to usurp the freedom and right of Americans to select a personal healthcare provider and manage their own healthcare.
The strategy employed by the insurance industry in this deceitful, greed-driven approach has been to shift the focus away from the need and right of individuals to access affordable healthcare and instead, make it a debate about individual freedom. That’s a nice trick if you can pull it off, but the insurance companies along their well-funded friends have done it.
For decades, the idea of a single-payer healthcare system has been metaphorically the “third-rail” of politics that was so charged with controversy that politicians were afraid to touch it. We see how terrified politicians are to take on the NRA and responsible gun control; well it has been the same with politicians taking on the insurance industry with a single-payer system of healthcare. The chief reason President Obama was willing to accept the insurance industry centered cumbersome system of “insurance exchanges” that are at the core of Obamacare was because he feared taking on the myths of “single-payer” head on. The result is that the insurance companies get their way and their profits and the rest of us are stuck with a muddled, inefficient and high-cost healthcare system. And millions more Americans still lack access to basic healthcare.
So What Really is a Single-Payer System?
A single-payer healthcare system is simple. Under such a plan the government would collect the taxes and premiums needed to fund universal healthcare. The government would then contract with and reimburse private doctors and hospitals for the healthcare services they provide.
What would such a plan look like and how would it work?
Well, many may not realize it, but Medicare is an example of this dreaded single-payer system. Medicare has proven to work well and covers millions of Americans – including me — without a loss of freedom or choice. Anyone covered under Medicare has the right to choose any doctor or healthcare provider they desire; so long as that doctor or hospital accepts Medicare. The most recent survey determined that over 90 percent of all doctors and virtually every hospital accepted Medicare payments.
It should be noted that Medicare gives those covered the freedom to not only select their personal provider, but virtually any type of medically necessary service. For example, Medicare covers the reasonable costs of doctor, hospital, preventative care, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs. Contrary to what critics of the single-payer system claim, Medicare actually expands the freedom of individuals to manage their healthcare, because it lowers the financial barriers to selecting the doctor or hospital they choose.
Those fearful of a single-payer system might suggest that such an all-encompassing government program would be inefficient and costly. Based on the history of other government programs, that might seem logical, but the reality is that the administrative costs for Medicare are at about 2 percent of total services. At the same time, the overall embedded administrative costs in the private healthcare system amount to over 30 percent of the services provided.
The insurance industry and its supporters argue that expanding the single-payer concept of Medicare and Medicaid to all Americans would bankrupt the system, but the truth is it would secure the financial viability of both programs. The system could be funded with premiums paid (based upon ability) by those covered and employer health taxes (employers would actually save money by not being required to provide coverage), but the most significant funding would come from savings obtained by replacing the current system of patchwork coverage. America now has the most inefficient and highest cost system of any industrialized nation; while failing to provide coverage for all citizens. Redirecting the expenditures from this failed private system would provide more than adequate funding for the single-payer Medicare and Medicaid systems. Furthermore, with everyone covered under the same plan, the government would have the clout to monitor and control the costs of services and medication.
The bottom line is that it is all well and good to discuss and debate whether all Americans should have a right to basic healthcare and if expanding Medicare and Medicaid is the way to provide it. However, to base opposition to these questions solely on the “evils” of a single-payer system is to fall prey to the self-serving, greedy and disingenuous arguments of the health insurance industry.