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Economist to speak in Charlotte about single payer health plan

By Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch
Karen Garloch writes on Health for The Charlotte Observer. Her column appears each Tuesday.

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  • Health reform

    Free talk: “Sustainable Quality Health Care for North Carolina: Single Payer is not an Answer – it is the Answer”

    Speaker: Dr. Gerald Friedman, professor of economics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

    When: May 23, 7 p.m.

    Where: Midwood International and Cultural Center, 1817 Central Ave.

Dr. Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, will be in Charlotte May 23 to make the case for single payer, universal health care in the United States.

He won’t argue for that approach because health care is a human right – even though that’s what he believes.

Instead, he’ll make the case that it’s the only plan that makes economic sense.

To those who think we can’t afford it, Friedman responds: “What we can’t afford is the current system. The only thing we can afford in the long run is a universal, single payer system. That’s the only thing that will bring down the cost.”

Friedman’s talk is sponsored by Health Care Justice, a local chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

His analysis centers on the nation’s health insurance system, where competition among private payers leads to administrative redundancy that increases costs without improving anyone’s health.

In the early 1970s, when there was little competition and most people got private insurance from one organization (Blue Cross), U.S. health care spending amounted to about 7.5 percent of the gross national product, he said. Today, with dozens of competing insurers, health care costs have risen to nearly 18 percent of GDP.

Eighty percent of that difference “can be explained by rising administrative costs,” Friedman said.

The average U.S. doctor spends 22 hours a week interacting with insurance representatives, and the largest occupation in health care is billing clerks, he said.

Many economists believe competition is good. Offer the best product at the best price, and you’ll sell more. But health care is different, Friedman said.

“Health insurers don’t try to sell more product. They try to sell less ... When you get sick, and they pay for an X-ray or chemotherapy, that’s a cost to them ... I’m not saying they’re evil, but the incentive is in the direction of making life difficult for people who get sick.”

A single payer system would get rid of duplicate billing operations and the incentive to cherry pick patients.

Even though the Affordable Care Act, the law championed by the Obama administration, will expand insurance coverage, it won’t cover everyone, and it won’t contain costs, Friedman said.

In five or 10 years, he predicted, health costs will be even higher. Private employers and state and local governments will again feel squeezed and demand a solution.

Despite gridlock in Washington, Friedman is optimistic that single payer, universal health care will one day be law in the United States, as it is in so many other nations.

When asked why, he referred to a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill: “Americans will always do the right thing, after exhausting all the alternatives.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078
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