Medicare for all.
That very phrase has the potential to produce several very palpable responses.
Republicans are, naturally, opposed to it since it promises to circumvent the private health insurance industry’s profit motive.
Many right-of-center Democrats–some of whom accept money from the same private health insurance industry–are still reticent to support it despite a 2018 Reuters-Ipsos poll showing 70% of respondents favor a single-payer national healthcare system and over 100 Democratic lawmakers support the “Medicare for All Act of 2021“.
There is no shortage of strawman arguments against it.
They range from “We can’t afford it” to “We have the best healthcare system in the world” to “It will bring us Soviet-style Socialism!”
There is also no shortage of counterarguments to knock down every one of those claims.
Let’s first examine the reductive “We can’t afford it” fallacy.
That claim is seldom if ever proposed whenever we feel the need to increase the military budget, print money to provide $2 trillion in economic relief to keep corporations afloat, dole out perpetual subsidies to the world’s most profitable corporations, or permanently cut taxes on those same corporations and their overlords to the tune of $1.5 trillion.
Those who cry poverty are often the same who also boast about us being the richest nation in the world.
They can’t have it both ways.
We have always been able to afford to provide every man, woman, and child born in this country healthcare as a human right.
Consider that over the past dozen or so years we have spent in the neighborhood between $20-35 trillion on corporate bailouts.
All that time we could have been providing healthcare.
Journalist David Sirota, in his newsletter TMI, wrote:
“We’ve seen health care industry CEOs report paying themselves $2.4 billion as 27 million people were thrown off their health care coverage. We’ve also seen Americans being charged anywhere from $400,000 to $1.1 million for COVID treatment, and facing $2,000 bills for coronavirus tests. And yet, despite data showing that a single-payer system would save big money, surveys still indicate some popular trepidation about the price tag of government-sponsored health care.”
What’s the price tag?
Right now, combining Medicare, Medicaid, insurance premiums, and out-of-pocket costs, we are expected to spend about $52 trillion on health care during the next decade.
That happens to be same amount the federal government set aside for corporate welfare since 2008.
After the 2008 financial crash, we granted $700 billion big banks.
The Federal Reserve committed between $16 trillion and $29 trillion to large financial institutions.
Lawmakers handed $4 trillion in pandemic relief to large corporations.
As David Sirota points out:
“That money was funneled to Corporate America not just in absence of tax increases– it was delivered while the government was actually cutting taxes.
“The picture gets even more absurd when you slightly broaden the frame and add in another $10 trillion that we nonchalantly spent on other items.
“For instance, we spent $2 trillion on the Iraq War. We also spent a combined $2.6 trillion on increases in the Pentagon’s already-giant base budget since its first post-9/11 budget. And we devoted about $5 trillion to the Bush and Trump tax cuts.”
Administrative savings could start by eliminating or significantly reducing the overhead produced in medical billing, on which the United States spends twice as much as Canada.
How much savings?
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Medicare-for-All could save the country up to $650 billion per year.
Another component: salaries and marketing expenses.
Transitioning everyone away from private for-profit health insurance to a Medicare-for-All system would save around $200 billion in overhead alone.
The “We have the best healthcare system in the world” premise is also specious.
A recent report from The Commonwealth Fund confirms the U.S. ranks dead last compared to 11 other wealthy countries in four out of five areas pertaining to access to care, process, administrative efficiency, equity and outcomes.
The study’s lead author, Eric Schneider, told The Washington Post:
“We’ve set up a system where we spend quite a bit of money on health care but we have significant financial barriers, which tend to dissuade people from getting care. We have almost two health-care systems in America: one for people with means and insurance, and another one that falls short for people who are uninsured or don’t have adequate insurance coverage.”
With the Olympics recently concluding, Schneider added:
“If healthcare were an Olympic sport, the U.S. might not qualify in a competition with other high-income nations,”
And the “Soviet-style Socialism” canard is just that.
Canada is not some third-world banana republic where people are dying in the streets. It’s a civilized liberal democracy, as are the 9 other countries that outrank us: Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
And they are proud and fiercely protective of their national healthcare systems.
There are many permutations of national healthcare systems, and we do not need to follow Canada–or any other country’s–model in lock step.
Great Britain, for example, practices socialized medicine, in which the government owns and operates most of the healthcare providers and doctors are government employees. Although technically a single-payer system, it is just one model.
Canada and many other nations, on the other hand, contract with private providers in which doctors still run their own practices.
This is the difference between “socialized medicine” and “single-payer.”
They are not “rationing care,” as opponents often claim.
Arguably, healthcare costs being the primary driver of bankruptcy, a distinction we share with no other country, is a form of rationed care.
If you have every tried getting an appointment with your primary care physician “as soon as possible,” you’ve experienced it.
If you’ve ever tried to schedule a test that doctor ordered and had to wait weeks or even months, that’s rationed care.
It’s even worse when trying to get in to see a specialist–that’s if your for-profit insurance company approves the visit.
There are no waits for urgent or primary care in Canada.
Facts don’t lie but those who seek to obscure the facts do.
Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, & Third Wednesday. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.