There are many complicated problems with the current health care system that require thorough consideration and careful reorganization, but there is one answer above all others that we must get right: reform must include universal care. Currently, America is the only developed nation that does not provide comprehensive health care for all of its citizens. This must change. Economics and morality sometimes tear us in different directions, but in this case, caring for our neighbors is profitable. With a single-payer system and universal care, businesses will pay less money for healthier employees and employees will pay less money for better care. A thoroughly reformed universal health care system is a big win for all parties.
In Germany, Otto von Bismarck achieved universal health care under the conservative theory that poor people who are sick work less and earn less profits for their employers. It still works.
About 14,000 Americans lose their insurance every day. A Harvard Medical School study shows that the uninsured are 40 percent more likely to die than those with insurance. The annual deaths from those who are uninsured are now 14 times higher than the victim toll of Sept. 11.
Even those who do currently have insurance will benefit from reform, because they will eliminate their chance of succumbing to bankruptcy from medical expenses and guarantee their future prosperity and function in the economy.
In the last decade, health insurance costs have doubled while out-of-pocket expenses have climbed by more than 30 percent. One reason for this is private insurance companies often refuse to pay for medical services covered under their programs.
A 2009 study in California by the Institute of Health and Socioeconomic Policy revealed many rejections of legitimate claims for covered services contributed to the astonishing average claim rejection rates of 39.6 percent for Pacifi-Care and 32.7 percent for Cigna.
The system of private insurance not only denies legitimate claims, it wastes money on expenditures that have nothing to do with providing care.
From 2000 to 2007, the top ten insurance companies increased their profits by 428 percent, from $2.4 billion to $12.7 billion (not including executive salaries), with examples of excessive executive compensation including the former CEO of United Health Group paying himself $800 million in stock options.
Meanwhile, doctors and hospitals pay the costs of administrative staffs required to negotiate the needlessly excessive bureaucracy. All of these wastes would be drastically reduced or eliminated under a single payer system. The money that could be saved is in the range of $350 billion per year, enough to overhaul the entire system and provide universal coverage without increasing anyone’s payments into the system.
Single payer systems are functionally capitalist, not socialist, because private companies compete for the funding. In fact, evidence from other democracies shows that publicly funded health care creates greater competition than what is currently achieved by privately funded health care in the U.S. According to a 2008 study by the American Medical Association’s Division of Economic and Health Policy Research, 94 percent of the metropolitan areas in the U.S. lacked any significant competition between health care insurance providers (by the standards of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission).
Doctors across the country are joining together and standing up for the necessity of a thoroughly reformed universal health care system. In the words of American Medical Association President Nancy H. Nielsen, “AMA physicians are in the nation’s capitol calling for reform that will provide everyone with portable, affordable health care coverage, regardless of employment. Fixing the health care system is good for families, and it’s good for the economy.”
-Myles Ikenberry is a graduate student in chemical engineering. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.