The 52nd anniversary of Medicare was Sunday and the program is more relevant than ever no matter your age.
If you’re younger than 50 or even 40, you may benefit from a brief description of Medicare. “Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease” (Medicare website). Congress created it in 1965 to aid older citizens who had no insurance coverage following retirement.
The health care issue is raging in the headlines and if you’re following the roller-coaster ride in Congress, regardless of party affiliation, you have to be shaking your head. There is a much better approach to all of this, and the Medicare model is a sensible place to begin.
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Medicare has been a godsend to older citizens who either did not have continued coverage from their employer plans or had only minimal individual coverage before the age of 65. The cost of running the Medicare system has been very efficient, easily outpacing the private insurance market in controlling costs.
A “Medicare for All” or “Single Payer” program makes the most sense and is possible if people demand it. What would such a program look like? How would it be different from the 52-year-old Medicare program?
First of all, a single-payer program would cover everyone through a non-profit public entity. The couple in their late 20s who are awed witnessing the birth of their daughter will know she is covered immediately. The 54-year-old man who loses his job will be consoled by knowing his ability to pay for his medical care or that of his children will not disappear as it does today.
Secondly, each individual or family will have no co-pays or deductibles. They will enjoy universal choice of their physicians, clinics and hospitals. There will be no lifetime caps on expenses.
Too good to be true? Not at all.
Who will pay? Eliminating the for-profit private insurance system will save at least $600.8 billion per year in administrative costs plus outpatient prescription drug costs, according to Annals of Internal Medicine. Doctor and hospital staff negotiating with health insurance company staffs over charges, tests, etc.? Gone. With no premiums there would be new, modest taxes based on one’s ability to pay. And 95 percent of families would save money compared with the current system.
The Commonwealth Fund’s 2014 report on international health system efficiency ranks the United States last of 11 developed nations on measures such as quality of care, access to care, efficiency of care and equity of care.
OK, those who are 50 or younger, are you interested? One other matter – a single-payer program is not socialism. Doctors, clinics and hospitals are free to practice medicine as they know best. A single-payer approach is simply a better financial way to fund health care in this country.
What next? Call your U.S. senator and U.S. representative and tell them what you think. The most recent action in the Congress is rather frightening given the facts.
And facts matter.
John H. Clark is a member of the Charlotte-based Health Care Justice North Carolina.