HEALTHCARE
May 12, 2016

Time for Medicare for All?

Over 2,200 doctors sign a proposal for a single-payer healthcare plan, saying savings would easily pay for the costs.

People have been calling for a sweeping change to the way medicine is practiced in the United States, proposing a publicly financed, single-payer health care system that would entirely eliminate private health insurance — essentially, Medicare-for-All for a while. But now the people agitating for the single payer option are doctors, over 2,200 of them, who have signed on in support of the plan.

The administrative savings would completely offset the costs of covering the uninsured and upgraded coverage for everyone else — full coverage of prescription drugs, dental care and long-term care.

Physicians for a National Health Program, the group behind the proposal, is a non-profit research and education organization of 20,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer national health insurance.

Here are some of the proposal's key provisions:

  • Patients could choose to go to any doctor or hospital.
  • The program would be paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund with modest new taxes that would be fully offset by reductions in premiums and out-of-pocket spending. Co-pays and deductibles would be eliminated.
  • It would save about $500 billion annually by eliminating the high overhead and profits of insurance firms and their reams of paperwork.
  • The administrative savings would completely offset the costs of covering the uninsured and upgraded coverage for everyone else — full coverage of prescription drugs, dental care and long-term care.
  • “Our nation is at a crossroads,” explains Dr. Adam Gaffney, co-chair of the group that wrote the proposal and a Boston-based pulmonary disease and critical care specialist. “Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act six years ago, 30 million Americans remain uninsured, an even greater number are underinsured, financial barriers to care like co-pays and deductibles are rising, bureaucracy is growing, provider networks are narrowing, and medical costs are continuing to climb.”

    The United States has never settled the question of whether health care should be a right, a privilege or a commodity that is bought and sold. The group's statement sees the current system as a mix of all three ideas, which has led to 33 million people who are uninsured, health care costs double those of Canada and one out five people who have insurance but still have trouble paying their medical bills.

    Every other developed nation has some form of national health insurance. A December 2015 Kaiser Foundation poll found that 58% of Americans supported the idea of Medicare for everybody, while only 34% opposed it.

    It's time to act, says proposal co-author, Dr. Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine: “We can no longer afford to waste the vast resources we do on the administrative costs, executive salaries and profiteering of the private insurance system. We get too little for our money. It's time to put those resources into real health care for everyone.”

    An editorial on the proposal appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

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