Monday, December 22, 2008

The Solution for Our Health Care Disaster


By Mary Ellen Bradshaw and George Pauk

It’s time for the big insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment and supply companies, for-profit hospitals and for-profit providers’ groups to stop obstructing real health reform.

There are 140 Arizona members of Physicians for a National Health Plan and many thousands more nationwide. We submit there is only one way to effectively address our country’s crisis in health care: the enactment of single-payer national health insurance, an expanded and improved Medicare for all.

The electorate of Arizona has spoken by defeating Proposition 101: people want real change. They want comprehensive, high-quality, and affordable care. They want to go to the doctor or hospital of their choice.

Single payer is the “cure” that will achieve these goals. Anything short of single payer will not.

Private insurance companies make their profits by enrolling the healthy, screening out the sick, and denying claims. These policies are literally bankrupting and killing us.

We simply can’t afford to pay 31 cents of every health care dollar for wasteful insurance company administrative costs – their paperwork, utilization reviews, executive salaries and payouts to shareholders. We simply can’t afford the inefficiencies of a system that blocks our ability to negotiate drug prices.

Replacing the private insurers with a not-for-profit, publicly financed system patterned after Medicare would save about $350 billion in administrative costs, more than enough to cover all the uninsured and to eliminate all co-pays and deductibles for everyone else.

It’s the only morally, medically and fiscally responsible thing to do.

Recently the people of Arizona were right in their wisdom to reject an amendment to our State Constitution that would have stopped major reform of our health care system, particularly the single-payer approach. They defeated Proposition 101 in spite of the huge amount of money behind it (much of it from out-of-state) and the deceptive language about “choice” that its backers used.

Where do we go from here? The solution exists in the form of a federal proposal that would guarantee everyone all of the medically necessary care they need, including dental care, drugs and long-term care, and would require no co-pays or deductibles.

It would be financed by a system of progressive taxation, much like everyone currently pays into Medicare, and the overwhelming majority of people would end up spending much less than they currently do for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, noted on the day after President-elect Barack Obama’s election win: "In large measure Sen. Obama's victory and the victories of his allies in the House and Senate were propelled by mounting public worries about health care. Yet the prescription offered during the campaign by the president-elect and most Democratic policy makers -- a hybrid of private health insurance plans and government subsidies -- will not resolve the problems of our dangerously dysfunctional system.”

Young pointed out that such hybrids have repeatedly failed in state-based experiments over the past 20 years in Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and several other states, including Massachusetts, whose second go-round at incremental reform is already faltering.

Like Dr. Young, we believe the only effective cure for our health care woes is to establish a single, publicly financed system, one that removes the inefficient, wasteful, for-profit private health insurance industry from the picture.

An April 2008 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed 59 percent of U.S. physicians support national health insurance. Opinion polls show two-thirds of the public also supports such a remedy.

President-elect Obama and the new Congress have a mandate and the opportunity to improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans. Their first order of business should be to enact a single-payer national health insurance plan.
Dr. Bradshaw and Dr. Pauk are both members of Physicians for a National Health Program ( and co-chairs of the Arizona Coalition for State and National Health Plans.
Copyright © 2008 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. 12/08