It’s time for Medicare For All

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

America’s broken healthcare system is a dangerous drain on our economy. Our high-priced healthcare system leaves millions uncovered, unable to afford treatment, and cut off from access to care.

Currently, the U.S. spends more on healthcare per person, and as a percentage of GDP, than any other advanced nation in the world, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and the UK. All that money, however, has not made Americans healthier than the rest of the world. For example, maternal mortality is actually increasing in the U.S. despite every other comparable country making significant gains in reducing deaths related to pregnancy and delivery.

At least 20% of Americans under 65 with health insurance had trouble paying their medical bills. Of those, 63% have used up all or most of their savings to tackle their healthcare expenses, and 42% took on an extra job to cover their costs. Medical debt is the number one source of personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S., and in 2014, an estimated 40% of Americans accrued debt resulting from a medical issue.

Other industrialized nations have made the morally principled and financially responsible decision to provide universal healthcare to all residents — and they do so while saving money by keeping people healthier. Those who say that this goal is unachievable in the United States are selling the American people short. Americans need a universal healthcare system that works for both patients and providers, and Medicare for All is the best way to get there.

Taking healthcare out of the hands of companies and pushing for a single-payer system wouldn’t just improve health outcomes, it could also boost our economy, increase hiring, and eliminate startup costs for small businesses.

Those who say that this goal is unachievable in the United States are selling the American people short. We need a system that works for us all, building on the strength of 50 successful years of our Medicare program to reduce overhead, administrative costs, and complexity. We need a straightforward system where everyone can get the care they need to maintain and improve their health when they need it regardless of income, age, or socioeconomic status.

If you’re lucky enough to have a good health plan, chances are you have been steadily forced to cover an increasing cost every year, while also having to fight denials and limitations. In New York State, the fees charged by private insurers have risen by over 50% in the last five years. Over one million New Yorkers lack health insurance, and millions more have plans that would send them into debt them if faced with a medical emergency.

Financial barriers and lack of access to quality care are significant drivers in these shameful health outcomes. Each year, one third of insured patients go without prescribed medicines or fail to get needed medical attention because of the realities of high deductibles and co-pays. The richest 1 percent of American men live 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent — and it’s 10 years longer for women.

While New York leads the country in healthcare spending, our healthcare outcomes are far behind. Every day, five New Yorkers die due to lack of health coverage. It’s so common that it doesn’t even makes the headlines. In the last ten years, an estimated 20,000 New Yorkers died unnecessarily due to absence of health insurance. In a climate where inequality is rapidly increasing, your zip code can actually predict your life expectancy.

The Medicare for All Act of 2017, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders in September, would expand Medicare into a universal health insurance program. The act garnered backing from at least 15 Democratic senators — a record level of support for an idea that had been pushed to the fringes during the last Democratic presidency. According to a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 51% percent of Americans and 74% of Democrats support Medicare for All.

This bill would revolutionize America’s health-care system, by replacing the current for-profit health insurance industry that profits off of sickness with a public system where everything from emergency surgery and prescription drugs to mental healthcare and dental would be covered — all with no co-pays. It would be good for workers, good for employers, and good for the American economy.

We can also pursue single-payer healthcare reform at the state level. The New York Health Act would provide universal healthcare for all New Yorkers, covering all medically necessary services with no out-of-pocket expenses (premiums, co-pays, deductibles). If the New York Health Act passes, 98% percent of New Yorkers would pay less for healthcare than they currently do. The state’s economy would save $45 billion yearly on healthcare costs, thanks to reduced administration costs of a single-payer system and curbing of monopoly profiteering by drug and medical device companies.

Progressive taxation of payroll taxes and income from capital gains, dividends, and interest would contribute to funding this initiative, along with federal funds currently received by New York for Medicare, Medicaid, Family Health Plus, and Child Health Plus. In New York state, employers spend a median of 12.8% of payroll on health insurance. By lowering the burden of employee healthcare on businesses to 8% of payroll, the New York Health Act would make businesses more competitive by cutting the top driver of the growing costs of doing business.

The New York Health Act would also correct the inequality and adverse consequences on marginalized groups perpetrated by our current healthcare system. While we can’t eradicate racism with a single payer system, we can at least create a level field by expanding access.

While plenty of bold, progressive, healthcare solutions exist and are being tested in other parts of the country, it’s unlikely we’ll see real change until we change our representation in Congress. New Yorkers deserve better.