Let’s Have Medicare For All!
On Sunday, March 29, my local paper, the Newark NJ Star-Ledger ran “book-end” op-eds on healthcare reform. They quibble about the cost and benefits of Obama’s plan. Neither addresses a superior plan that is already before Congress but is being kept “off the table” in most discussions of healthcare reform.
President Obama insists that some consumers like their current health insurance. Most are probably unaware that illness and medical debt are the single biggest cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, or that three out of four of those households had health insurance when illness or injury first struck. Nor will they be able to keep the plan they like if they lose their jobs.
In the United States, most young adults get their health insurance from their employer. If they lose their job, they have to buy health insurance, a huge expense when their income has vanished. What’s worse, the high cost of health insurance has been chasing jobs away. Health insurance companies have been fattening like ticks on employers of all kinds in the United States. Unlike Medicare, which has an overhead of only 3%, the insurance companies skim about 30% off the top, to pay for executive salaries and bonuses, shareholders’ profits, and the cost of a wasteful, inhumane bureaucracy. Many employers can’t afford this, especially if they are competing with foreign companies that have efficient national health insurance. So employers from large industries to small businesses to nonprofits like your child’s school have to cut benefits or cut staff.
The obvious solution is to expand and improve Medicare to cover everything for everyone: 100% of all medically necessary care, including prescription drugs and long-term care. By cutting out the private insurance companies, we could cover everyone at a reasonable cost: 90% of American families would end up paying less than they are paying now.
The United States National Health Care Act or the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (H.R. 676) would be funded by a payroll tax: 4.5 percent from employers and 3.3 percent from employees. There would also be a one third of one percent tax on stock transactions and a small increase in income tax for the top income earners. So most unemployed and retired people won’t have to pay a cent.
If Medicare for All is enacted, most Americans will never see another medical bill or pay for another prescription drug. They won’t have to sell their home to buy long-term care for a disabled family member. All we need to do is get the House of Representatives to pass H.R. 676, and the Senate to pass the companion bill S. 703, and the President to sign it.
“But it will never pass,” people say, “because Congress is in the pockets of the health insurance industry.” Yes we can get this legislation passed. Pollsters report that most people want a “single-payer” plan like H.R. 676. Strong majorities of doctors and nurses support it. Most employers, from big manufacturers to small businesses to your children’s school or your church, would save money on health insurance, while providing better health coverage to their employees. Medicare for All will help make American businesses competitive again. If patients, doctors and nurses, and most employers want this bill to pass, who can stand in its way?
Nevertheless, getting Medicare for All will be an uphill struggle. The single-payer option is being swept “off the table” by the likes of Max Baucus, Senate Finance Committee Chair and recipient of over $2 million in campaign contributions from the insurance and healthcare industries in the last election. Fortunately, members of the House of Representatives face reelection every two years. If your Representative doesn’t support H.R. 676, find someone who will and get that person elected in 2010. Senators serve longer terms, but the principle's the same. Ask your senators to cosponsor S.703.
To get involved, connect with groups like Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org) or Healthcare-Now! (www.healthcare-now.org). Beware of groups that are really fronts for the insurance companies. Learn the facts of healthcare reform options. Talk to your friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors. Get organized, and get active. Together, we can do it!