Medicare for Each of Us in the Age of the Coronavirus

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    It is not an exaggeration to say that no reform other than publicly financed, single-payer universal health care will solve the problems of our health care system. This is true whether we are talking about a public option, a Medicare option, Medicare buy-in, Medicare extra, or any other half-measure. The main reason is because of the savings that are inherent only in a truly universal single-payer plan. Specifically, the administrative and bureaucratic savings gained by eliminating private insurers are the largest potential source of savings in a universal single-payer framework, yet all the “option” reforms listed above leave largely intact the tangle of wasteful, inefficient, and costly private commercial health insurers. The second largest source of savings comes through reducing the cost of prescription drugs by using the negotiating leverage of the federal government to bring down prices, as is done in most other developed countries. The ability, will, and policy tools (such as global budgeting) to restrain these and other costs in a single-payer framework are the key to reining in the relentless rise in health care expenditures and providing universal coverage.

    The various “option” reform proposals will not simplify our confusing health care system nor will they lead to universal coverage. None have adequate means to restrain health care costs. So why go down this road? Is it too difficult for the US to guarantee everyone access to affordable care when every other developed country in the world has done so?

    The stated reason put forth in favor of these mixed option approaches is that Americans want “choice.” But choice of what? We know with certainty from former insurance company executives such as Wendell Potter that the false “choice” meme polls well with the US public and was used to undermine the Clinton reform efforts more than 25 years ago. It is being widely used today to manipulate public opinion.

    But choice in our current system is largely an illusion. In 2019, 67.8 million workers across the country separated from their job at some point during the year—either through layoffs, terminations, or switching jobs. This labor turnover data leaves little doubt that people with employer-sponsored insurance are losing their insurance constantly, as are their spouses and children. And even for those who stay at the same job, insurance coverage often changes. In 2019, more than half of all firms offering health benefits reported shopping for a new health plan and, among those, nearly 20 percent actually changed insurance carriers. Trading off choice of doctors or hospitals for choice of insurance companies is a bad bargain.

    Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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