Monday, June 8, 2009

Embracing the Single Payer System for Health Care

Thomas Hinton
President & CEO
American Consumer Council

There was a time when the United States of America provided the finest health care in the world. Today, the United States is a good example of how not to build a health care system for patients.
What happened? While the answer is simple, the solution to fixing our health care system is complex because of politics, profits, and protecting special interests. The solution requires political courage and leadership. It also requires a grass roots movement on the part of millions of Americans who believe the health care system must change and health care should become a right for all Americans and not a privilege for the few who can afford high health insurance premiums.
Consider these facts. There are 305 million Americans. Some 46 million Americans are uninsured. That’s just over 15% of our population. Nationwide, 202 million Americans are covered by private insurance programs. The average annual premium for a family policy on the open market is nearly $5,800. But, with premiums rising, and private insurance programs being more selective in who they will cover and how much they will pay for certain medical procedures, there is serious concern that premiums will increase while the number of insured Americans will drop significantly because they can no longer afford basic health insurance.
There is a solution that would produce better quality, more research, healthier patients, and entice more health care professionals to return to their chosen profession. It is the Single Payer System.
Regrettably, the Single Payer System solution isn’t even on the table as the president and Congress grapple with how to fix America’s broken health care system. While President Obama should be commended for bringing together key health care industry leaders representing the various factions to create a solution to the current health care mess, the patient -- the American people -- is dying of neglect!
As long as the entrenched health care insurance companies control the Congress and the White House through their lobbyists and campaign contributions, meaningful reform will never happen. Our system has been corrupted at the highest levels of government by profits and greed when action is required, and now!
It is time the political leadership in Washington showed real courage by standing up to the health insurance industry and its lobbyists and changed the way health care is purchased and delivered in the United States. Specifically, President Obama, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must step forward and endorse the Single Payer System. This would eliminate the need for health care insurance companies and streamline the current system saving an estimated $400 Billion annually -- more than enough to cover those 46 million uninsured Americans who are at risk.
While the naysayers will argue that such a system will ruin health care and compromise the delivery of outstanding care, they are flat wrong. In fact, if we do not move quickly and boldly to correct our broken health care insurance system, more Americans will suffer, die, and face serious financial hardships because they will be shut out from obtaining insurance and, therefore, receiving proper health care.
In the words of Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee which oversees health care reform, “Our health care system is in trouble: costs are rising at an unsustainable rate, too many Americans are uninsured, and quality of care isn’t up to par. High costs are making it increasingly difficult for Montana’s families and businesses to afford comprehensive health insurance, which means that Montana’s rate of uninsured is growing rapidly. Although the United States spends twice as much on health care as any other country, we clearly don’t have twice as much health care.
Ironically, it is Senator Max Baucus, the one elected official who could jump-start serious health care reform, who is blocking Single Payer legislation like HR 676. Why? Because, Senator Baucus is one of those Washington politicians who is beholden to the health care insurance industry! Senator Baucus is the third-largest recipient of contributions from the health care and pharmaceutical industries since 2005. Senator Baucus has received $413,000 in donations from health care and pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists. This is according to a March 8 article by Dan Eggen in the Washington Post (''Health Sector Has Donated Millions to Lawmakers''). While this money might be significant to the senator’s campaign fund, it is surprising that -- in the scheme of things and the greater good that could be done by the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee-- such a small amount of money could skew Senator Baucus’ judgment, shade his thinking, and compromise his leadership at a time when Americans desperately need his direction to change the status quo in health care.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why, at the recent Senate Finance Committee hearings on Health Care Reform, chaired by Senator Baucus, he refused to invite anyone who supported the Single-Payer System to appear as an expert witness. Senator Baucus did ensure several slots for his cronies from the health insurance industry as well as association leaders and others who endorsed President Obama’s simplistic health care ideas.
Also disturbing was the fact that Senator Baucus had several Single Payer advocates, who tried to speak out at his hearings, escorted from the Senate hearing room and arrested. This raises serious questions about Senator Baucus’ objectivity, balance and sincerity when it comes to championing health care reform. It’s clear that the United States needs a new health care champion who is objective and untainted by health insurance contributions. Is there such a politician who has the courage and will to stand up against the greedy insurance companies? We’ll see.
The number of uninsured Americans is growing at an alarming rate of nearly 14,000 people every day due to the economic recession and mounting job losses. This is unacceptable. But, what is also unacceptable is the band-aid approach by the president and Congress to keep our greed-driven health insurance system in place while more Americans suffer and die as a result of the policies, rules and procedures dictated by health insurers who only carry about profits, not patients! It is time for a change in how Americans pay for and receive health care.
Let’s define what a Single Payer System is and is not. In a single-payer health system, everyone has health insurance. It is either obtained through a private insurance company like Kaiser or Blue Cross/Blue Shield, or through a government funded program such as Medicare. Also, every person is free to choose their own doctors, hospitals and related health care services. When patients receives care or treatment, they sign a statement that verifies the services they received from their health care provider (doctor, nurse, hospital, etc.). The health care provider then sends a bill for services rendered to the Single Payer -- that is, a national health care administration created by Congress to pay the health provider for your treatment. It’s simple and straightforward.
The Single Payer System does not limit or dictate the type of treatment you can receive. Those decisions are made by you and your doctor. The Single Payer System will not dictate who can treat you. It only affects how your health care provider is paid. And, yes, it eliminates the need for all the health insurance companies currently in business which cost taxpayers about $400 billion annually.
According to the Institute of Medicine, 18,000 people in the United States die every year because they lack health insurance. That’s two people every hour. The United States also has a higher infant mortality level (more children under 1 year of age die) than many other democratic countries.
For many decades, several medical associations claimed that “health care is a privilege not a right.” In an era of human development, certainly the wealthiest nation in the world should make health care a right. The Single Payer System is a step in the right direction to establishing that right.

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