Op-Ed: Why Change to Medicare for All?

Powerful private insurance and pharmaceutical industries are spending billions on lobbying, TV ads and campaign contributions. Our legislators take an oath to protect the American people, but many are failing us profoundly because the lobbyists have their ear.

Why Change to Medicare For All?

By Jan Phillips

Durango, CO
Nearly 30 million Americans are uninsured, another 40 million are underinsured and all of us are unsure whether our coverage will protect us if we become seriously ill.
U.S. healthcare results are mediocre, considering we spend twice as much as other rich countries that provide all their citizens with insurance through universal coverage. We have lower life spans, higher infant and maternal deaths and increased hospital stay for preventable diseases. Lab and medication errors also rank higher than in other industrialized countries.
Recent polls suggest that many physicians, business leaders, nurses, teachers and 70 percent of Americans support improved Medicare for All.  When a subsequent poll asked people if they’d be willing to give up their employer-based insurance for a Medicare for All program, support went down to 53 percent.  People say they like their current coverage and oppose the modest tax increases needed to expand a Medicare-style system to cover everyone.
I wonder if most of those happy with their coverage just hasn’t become sick enough to realize how flimsy private insurance can be.  High Co-pays, deductibles in the thousands of dollars, surprise medical bills, narrow provider networks, and scandalous drug prices often shock and block us from needed care. Worth mentioning is that we are all one pink slip away from losing employer-based medical coverage.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) calculator, a family of four earning $50,000 annually with employer coverage pays 15 percent of its income on health care. That’s $7,500 a year.  And that doesn’t include the additional payroll and income taxes paid that support federal employee health coverage, veterans’ care, state Medicaid, Medicare and federal subsidies for health plans.  Families earning $150,000 pay a lower percentage of their income on health care — 12 percent or $21,250 a year. This keeps increasing.
When the government pays “subsidies” for our Affordable Care Act plans, that’s our tax dollars going to private insurance companies.  In 2018, government subsidies to the insurance industry amounted to $55 billion dollars.
(Bloomberg News May 23, 2018)
According to the KFF, from 1999 to 2015 growth in health insurance premiums outpaced wage increases by a whopping 200 percent.  Many businesses funnel nearly a quarter of their payroll costs into health benefits.
Economists agree that companies providing workplace health coverage spend proportionately less on wages. That’s one reason U.S. paychecks have remained flat for at least a decade.
Our system is complex and fragmented because of the thousands of different insurance plans.  This “hyper-complexity” contributes to the cost of health care. Complicated billing jacks up administrative costs, causing inefficiency, mistakes, and fraud. It’s nearly impossible to find our way through the maze of different policies and rules.
We need simplicity. The massive administrative savings, bargaining power and increased efficiency of a single-payer system such as improved Medicare for All can save enough money to provide everyone in the U.S. with comprehensive benefits. It can protect us from medical bankruptcy and allow us to visit any doctor or hospital we choose, across the country. We would get the care we need — not just when we have enough money to afford premiums, Co-pays, and deductibles.
Medicare for All will not be free but will be financed equitably through progressive taxes.  That means high-income households would assume a greater share of the costs.
Except for the very wealthy, most Americans will pay less overall for health insurance. The comprehensive Medicare For All bills in Congress estimates payroll taxes would be shared by employer and employee at around 3 percent for workers and 8 percent for employers.  That’s far lower than the 12-15 percent we’re paying now for premiums and Co-pays, plus the deductibles.
Along with lower costs, we’ll have the freedom to change jobs, go back to school, stay home with children or start a new business without fear of financial ruin from medical bills.
Medicare for All would save lives and save money.
Powerful private insurance and pharmaceutical industries are spending billions on lobbying, TV ads and campaign contributions. Our legislators take an oath to protect the American people, but many are failing us profoundly because the lobbyists have their ear.
We have power, too.  We have the money, expertise and majority support to create the best health care in the world.  Call your member of Congress today and demand real change — Medicare for All.

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