OPINION: We need Medicare for all


Grant Gaden

Medicare for All Rally in Los Angeles in 2017. Photo Credits: Molly Adams

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed one of the most fundamental holes in the way our healthcare system operates.

With the dramatic increase in unemployment, millions of people also lost the health insurance coverage they received from their employer. Even with this in mind, Democratic party officials voted overwhelmingly to not add a proposal for Medicare for all to their 2020 party platform, which was popularized by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Despite the fact that millions of Americans are without health insurance in the midst of a pandemic, our government still chose to side with the corporate interests and insurance companies who consistently exploit people at their weakest moments.

The reality is that most everyone will need some type of procedure or hospital stay at some point in their lives. It is rarely something that you can avoid all together, no matter how well you take care of your body. It affects all of us all, young and old. That is  why it is time we as Americans demand a single payer system similar to most industrialized countries around the world.

First off, to understand how our healthcare system is fundamentally different from that of every other industrialized nation in the world, it’s important to define the private payer system we currently live under and how that would differ from the single payer model.

Currently, in order for most people to afford any kind of medical attention you have to be covered by a medical insurer, usually provided in part by your employer. Since most people get health insurance from their employer, this can make it difficult for those either personally living with or caring for someone who lives with a chronic condition to move to a better job because of the lapse in insurance coverage it could cause. Even those with insurance coverage often pay through the nose for a hospital or doctor’s visit due to many unaffordable insurance coverage plans that require a high deductible before your insurance kicks in. The same plan you already pay a monthly premium for will not even kick in a dime toward your payments until you pay up to your deductible. For many, their deductible can be thousands of dollars, forcing the average family to either choose between delaying medical care or paying for it all out of pocket. Paying out of pocket for most is often unrealistic, as a report published in 2017 by the employment website CareerBuilder found in a survey that 78% of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

It’s important to define what a universal single payer healthcare system truly means, because in recent history universal health care has come to take on a new meaning depending on who you ask. However, in a single payer system, the sole payer of medical expenses is the national government. The system is funded through the taxes citizens pay and there are no private insurance companies.

Every industrialized nation in the world guarantees healthcare to its people through some form of this model besides the United States. Due to this, about 45,000 Americans die every year from a lack of health insurance, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Medicine. This problem would be totally solved or significantly reduced under a single payer system that guarantees healthcare as a human right even to low-income households.

A single payer system is far more efficient than our current private system, because the sole negotiator between healthcare providers and patients would be the government. This essentially creates a buyer’s monopoly in which the government is the only consumer of healthcare goods. In order to compete in this new market, companies would be forced to provide their products and services at a competitive price or risk losing out to ones that will.

This method differs from our current system’s beliefs that competition between multiple businesses in an industry will be forced to provide the best quality goods or services at the lowest cost to consumers in order to remain competitive. This isn’t always the case—especially not in healthcare. Often, when someone needs medical treatment at a hospital, they don’t have time to shop around because time could be the difference between life and death. Without medical training, it is hard to know what treatment you need to be able to compare prices.

The next way this lack of choice manifests is through consumer’s choice in insurance providers. There isn’t much of a choice, considering that the majority of Americans with coverage get it through their employer, often with no say in the decision. Like all businesses, the main goal of insurance companies is to make money. One way a business might try to increase profit is by reducing or keeping costs low. In the case of insurance companies, though, they’re often fine with paying the higher costs of healthcare because it allows them to charge a higher premium to make up for it and therefore higher profits for them.

This increase in costs is mainly handed down to employees with insurance coverage through work. For every dollar that healthcare costs rose, an employee’s overall compensation was cut by fifty-two cents according to a study by George Mason economist Priyanka Anand. With the passage of a single-payer system, the money saved by employers could be passed down to workers through higher wages. This could break the trend of wage stagnation we’ve seen in America, as the average wage after accounting for inflation has roughly the same purchasing power it did about 40 years ago according to the Pew Research group.

Many opponents of this system question the affordability of such a plan, but the reality is that the United State is the richest country in the world while still being the only industrialized country to not guarantee some form of universal healthcare. Clearly, money is being spent elsewhere. As it stands now in the United States ,we already have a working, “universal” healthcare system for those over 65 in the form of Medicare that’s funded by income taxes. In Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, we would transition in a matter of a few years from private health insurers to a Medicare program that would cover the entirety of health care costs for Americans, similar to the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom.

Procedures and medication for those on Medicare is also significantly cheaper than regular insurance because of the buyer’s monopoly, mentioned earlier, created by having the government be the sole purchaser of healthcare. Under a single-payer system, these savings would be applied to the larger population and could dramatically reduce the total cost of coverage for all Americans. On top of those savings, Medicare is already an income tax so everyone would pay a little more in every paycheck, but would still be paying significantly less in the long-term from the elimination of monthly premiums and costly hospital and doctor bills that still require you to reach your deductible before insurance pays out.

As it stands now our current healthcare system is unaffordable, inefficient and morally corrupt as we allow corporate greed to dictate who is and is not worthy of medical treatment. It is a modern tragedy and a harsh reality that those who are without insurance or the means to pay cannot receive proper medical treatment until it is too late. Americans shouldn’t be forced to suffer and die simply for not having the millions of dollars and corporate lobbyists health insurance companies do.

Conservative politicians for years have preached the gospel of trickle-down economics: that by reducing the amount of taxes the richest Americans pay they’re able to better fund employment and opportunities for the rest of the country. In reality, we see cutting taxes leads to eliminating public services and programs which in turn has real implications on the disadvantaged population of this country. Such wealth would clearly be put to better use if the wealthy of this country paid their fair share in taxes to fund social programs that benefit the many and not the few.

The failures of America’s healthcare system will only continue to be exposed through this pandemic, and if we are the morally upright country we believe ourselves to be, the least we can do is make healthcare a human right.