The U.S. spends a higher portion of our gross domestic product on health care than any other country, but we rank 37 out of 191 countries, according to a report of the World Health Organization (WHO) on health system performance. This shocking fact is sadly left out of the current debate on health care reform.
The main thing that the top 36 countries have in common, other than spending less money on health care than the USA, is that they cover every one of their citizens. Those are two good goals for any health reform in this country. In the USA, current estimates are that 47 million people are uninsured. Sixty Americans are dying every day due to the lack of health insurance, according to an Institute of Medicine report. Every 30 seconds there is a bankruptcy due to medical debt. Government paid about 45 percent of the $2.2 trillion the nation spent on medical care in 2004.
So the question is, can the USA adopt a health care system that will be less expensive, help bring health care costs down and cover all of its citizens?
The answer is yes. The answer is a single-payer system. You probably haven't heard much about it, though, as the debate in D.C. has been hijacked by the health insurance industry that is dumping $1.4 million a day to lobby to stop any real health care reform. President Obama and the Congress aren't even talking about the efficiencies and benefits of a single-payer system because of the lock that big money insurance and pharmaceutical interests have on our elected officials. Health care interests contributed $94 million to Congress members' campaigns during the 2008 election cycle alone -- up from $40 million in 2000. They are the wall obstructing the reform that most Americans favor.
A single-payer system already exists for some in the USA. Medicare and the Veterans Administration are two examples. Instead of the confusing morass of insurance company bureaucrats who are paid to deny coverage, there would simply be one payer. Congressional Budget Office studies estimate that there will be $400 billion a year in savings by eliminating private insurance profits and needless overhead. The administrative overhead of Medicare is 3 percent, while private insurance is nearly 30 percent.
We can save money and cover everyone.
A single-payer system will not ration health care or put the government in charge of your doctor. The real rationing of health care is happening now, where tens of millions do not have any access to health care at all. With a single-payer system you will not have to worry about being out of network or at a preferred provider or any of the other hoops that the insurance industry has fashioned.
President Obama said in a speech six years ago that the only reason single-payer proponents should tolerate delay is "because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House." All that has happened, and nothing is happening. There are bills to bring a single-payer system in both the House and the Senate, but they get short shrift. Even though they would save money and cover everyone, there is no big-money constituency pushing for their passage. Instead, insurance industry lobbyists have thrown all they have at preventing real reform.
How can someone, or a family, be able to pursue life, liberty and happiness without health care? Can you imagine having a child and not having health coverage? Health care in this country should run similarly to how we pay for the fire department and police -- there is no public option for these services with wealthy people having a private system that guarantees them better care. There is no reason for health care to be on a two-tier, separate-and-unequal regime.
A single-payer health care system is efficient and effective. Everybody in. Nobody out.
It's time for real health care reform.
Steve Cleary is the former director of AkPIRG and is a stay-at-home dad in Anchorage.
By STEVE CLEARY