by Paul Hochfeld
What do we say to our more conservative friends, who genuinely think that the Single Payer solution to our health care crisis would be a disaster? Try what follows. In the end, you may simply agree to disagree. That’s O.K., but what follows may give them pause to think.
Already, 60% of all our health care dollars come directly or indirectly (because employers insurance premiums are tax deductible) from the taxpayer. The care of our oldest neighbors are financed by Medicare, i.e. the taxpayers. The care of our disabled neighbors is financed by Medicaid. Ditto the care of our poorest neighbors who, because health follows wealth, are also at greater risk of high expense. Fourteen hundred insurance companies, at significant expense, stratify the rest of the population by “risk”. Their top-secret formula results in them covering the employed people, small groups, and individuals who can prove that they are at low risk. What about the others? When those who can’t afford the premiums get sick, go bankrupt, and can’t pay their bills, “we” all pay for it in higher charges. Furthermore, employer-paid premiums are tax deductible which means insurance company profits are subsidized by the taxpayer.
As near as I can tell, this is a big taxpayer rip-off. Additionally, our non-system is fraught with numerous perverse incentives that result in more care, but not necessarily better care. Physicians must share a significant part of the blame here, but that’s a different, though important, discussion. Addressing these perversities is problematic because we don’t have a Health Care System we have For-Profit Sick Care Non-System that, to extent that it has any design at all, is designed to serve the for-profit insurance and the pharmaceutical industries. Perverse incentives work for those who profit from them. They don’t work for patients or those who pay the bills, i.e., taxpayers.
Single payer means one risk pool. You’ve heard the slogan. Everyone in. Nobody out. We gather all the money that employers and individuals are currently paying for health care. It’s not more money. It’s the same money, already being spent on health care, but by pooling it, we can save 20% right off the top. Providers won’t have negotiate fee schedules with all the different payers. Providers will only have to send bills, electronically, to one place. Furthermore, substantial savings accrue as the system matures. When an ER Doctor in Oregon sees a patient passing through town, he will access her electronic medical record in Iowa, resulting in, not just less expensive care, but better care. None of this is going to be accomplished until we have Public Health Authorities administering a health care system with the goal of health, financed publicly and delivered privately.
This isn’t pie in the sky. Check out what the other developed countries are doing, but please don’t respond with anecdotes. We have 45,000 new anecdotes every year that illuminate how real or perceived financial barriers to timely, appropriate care cause unnecessary death.
The real question is whose “system” produces the least number of unnecessary deaths and the least suffering for the dollars being spent? Yes, other countries are struggling because of limited resources, but they are dealing with the problems maturely, they are making difficult decisions, and, by recognizing that health is a human right, they are getting a healthier population for less cost.
Is access to appropriate health care a human right? If not, we can agree to disagree. If so, it is a legitimate function of our government to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks. Also, doesn’t the government have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure the taxpayer is getting value for its health care dollars? Insurance company CEO’s have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits even if it means investing large sums of money in manipulating public policy… and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. It’s unfathomable to me that some people distrust “The United States” more than United Health Care. That may be where we end up agreeing to disagree.
In any case, the taxpayer is being ripped off, big time.