Zelin: Medicare for All: An Argument for Implementation

Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail in 2015. (Unmodified Creative Commons photo by Michael Vadon. http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Our health care system is broken. The United States of America pays more money on health care than any other industrialized country in the world, more than $3.4 trillion per year to be exact, yet our life expectancy ranks 26th out of 36 member nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Too often, citizens are paying insurance companies copayments and deductibles at insanely high rates only to receive subpar coverage. The average citizen spends about $10,000 on health care annually, cumulatively translating to nearly a fifth of our GDP.

Despite such lofty prices, quality of care is astonishingly low compared to many of the highest-income countries in the world. For example, out of 13 of the wealthiest countries, the U.S. experiences the highest rates of infant mortality, obesity, and several other chronic conditions.

Efficiency within the system also ranks dead last amongst the 13 countries studied in a 2014 Commonwealth Fund report. Wasteful spending and an overly complicated insurance bureaucracy plague our health care system from treating people in a timely manner.

Furthermore, access to care is extremely unequal. 37 percent of U.S. citizens skip out on getting treatment because the cost is simply too high for them to bare. The fear of losing one’s life savings over a visit to the emergency room is widespread and real. Lower-income individuals also report substantially longer wait times than do citizens with higher incomes.

So now that we have established just how dreadful the United States of America performs when it comes to health care, what could possibly be done to begin addressing these significant problems?

Some believe that the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, is the root of all problems in our health care system, and that it should be swiftly repealed and replaced. However, as we have seen in recent months, the feasibility and popularity of such a vague and volatile reform is extremely low.

The enormous problems that the American health care system faces have existed long before the existence of Obamacare. The root of the matter lies not within an individual piece of legislation, but rather within the overall context of the system itself.

The health insurance industry yields unworldly influence over all aspects of health care. Why do we leave such an invaluable aspect of human life in the hands of an industry that prioritizes profit above all else?

Insurance companies are not in the business of providing quality, affordable coverage to all U.S. citizens; they are in the business of making money. This is simply the logical outcome of anything that is designated to the private sector.

28 million Americans currently do not have health insurance. How is this possible in the United States of America in the year 2017? What is the morality of such a grotesquely unequal system?

The only viable solution that guarantees quality health care to all Americans is a Medicare for all single payer system. Within such a system, the immensely popular and effective Medicare program would be expanded to include all citizens.

Under single-payer, our complicated, overly-bureaucratic system would be greatly simplified. The middle-man would be completely removed, eliminating the existence of absurdly high deductibles and copayments. The proposal would result in a slight 2.2% increase in income tax per household, but this would ultimately save the typical family hundreds of dollars a year on coverage.

In order to finance this ambitious proposal, a more progressive income tax system amongst other taxes on the wealthiest individuals in the country would be necessary. I strongly feel that such tax reform is crucial in reversing some of the immense inequalities that our country currently experiences.

As wild and crazy as this idea may sound to some, every other major country on Earth has managed to implement this system, saving a great deal of money per capita and yielding higher-quality coverage in the process.

For a while, this idea was too wide-eyed and foreign for the entire Democratic Party. However, after a 2016 election cycle which showcased immense support for Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and his platform for health care reform, public support for the measure is reaching new heights.

An April poll conducted by the Economist/YouGov found that 60 percent of adults want to “expand Medicare to provide health insurance to every American,” including 75 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents and 46 percents of Republicans. Millions of people in grassroots organizations and labor unions including National Nurses United, Democracy for America, and MoveOn.org are on board the fight as well.

On September 13, 2017, Sanders introduced a new iteration of his Medicare for all legislation with 15 cosponsors and several other supporters in the Senate by his side. A matching bill in the House of Representatives has enlisted 117 cosponsors as well. Sanders previously introduced a similar bill in the 2013 Congress, of which he was the sole sponsor.

The needle has clearly moved a substantial amount on this issue. For example, former Senator Max Baucus, D-MT, who vigorously fought against the inclusion of the public option in Obamacare, has come out in favor of single payer, claiming “We’re getting there. It’s going to happen.”

Even Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, has come out stating, “It should be explored,” in reference to a single-payer system. That’s right: conservative Blue Dog Joe Manchin is at least somewhat open to the idea of a government-run health care system. Manchin later walked back this statement for political reasons, but the point still stands.

Notably, Senators Kamala Harris, D-CA, and Cory Booker, D-NJ, have “evolved” on the matter with Harris saying, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Both of these high-profile Democrats (and potential 2020 presidential candidates) ardently campaigned on behalf Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and were obviously against this idea. However, such a swift and dramatic shift, claiming “health care should be a right, not a privilege”, could be a clear signal to the power players in the party that single-payer is the future.

I welcome these newcomers to the struggle for universal health care. I strongly agree that health care should be a right of all people, and I believe it is only a matter of time before the commodification of health care finally comes to an end.

Comments are closed.