Report from the May 23rd meeting – universal health care


Health care is a human right and a public good, like public safety, schools, and roads, and should be paid for with public money, Maria Behan of Sonoma County for Single-Payer said Thursday, May 23, at the Windsor Democratic Club’s regular monthly meeting at the Windsor Round Table Pizza.

Currently health care is treated as a commodity, like cars, cosmetics, or other consumer goods. Access to treatment is rationed by an individual’s ability to pay.

About half of people in the U.S., 150 million, have private insurance through an employer. Another 50 million are covered by Medicare. Medicaid covers 70 million. Those who do not receive health insurance through their work or from Medicare or Medicaid, typically those who are fully self-employed, must buy individual insurance if they can afford it. About 17 million people receive government subsidized private insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but many people who do not have employer-paid insurance make too much to get any subsidies.

In 2017 an estimated 28.5 million people were uninsured. One major reason is that the cost of healthcare insurance has risen faster than wages and inflation for most of the past decades.

This patchwork of private and government-funded insurance is inefficient, wasteful, and cruel. Since 2016, the U.S. has been spending roughly 18% of its GDP on health care, the highest percentage in the world, by far. Despite this, an estimated 48,000 people die prematurely every year from preventable causes because they lack access to health care. And significant number of bankruptcies result from high medical expenses, even though many of those going bankrupt had health insurance.

The United States is the only major country in the world that does not have some form of government-mandated, tax-funded universal health care access.

Countries as diverse as the UK, Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, and Cuba have government-run healthcare systems. In the U.S., Veterans Administration and Indian Health doctors are employed directly by the government. Other countries have some combination of government and private insurance, coupled with government regulation of costs.

In a single-payer system the government is the insurer. Medical care remains private but is paid for by the government, eliminating the insurance industry as middleman between caregivers and patients. Canada, for example, has a single-payer system.

Overall most developed countries spend about 9% of GDP on healthcare. We cannot afford not to have single-payer, Behan said.

In March, Pramila Jayapal [D-Wa] introduced HR 1384, to create a single-payer system, with 108 cosponsors including local congressmen Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson. Bernie Sanders [I-Vt] introduced the Senate version, SB 1129, with fourteen cosponsors, including presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker.

Medicare for All offers a detailed blueprint for government-funded single-payer health insurance. The government would provide universal health care coverage. Health care would remain privately operated and owned. Unlike current Medicare, M4A would cover dental, vision and long-term care.

Behan encouraged people to go to the Facebook page for Sonoma County for Single-Payer, or the websites of the National Nurses United or Physicians for National Health Program, to educate themselves and others about the financial and social benefits of Medicare for All.

We need to drown out the lobbyist’s voices, Behan said. Let our leaders know that we need equitable, universal-coverage healthcare. In the end, Behan said, single-payer is about more than money – it reflects the kind of society we want to be.

–Shirley Johnston

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