Opinion: Pandemic Shows The U.S. Needs Medicare For All

Now is truly the time for Medicare for All. 

With more than 10 million Americans applying for unemployment in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 70 million who were already uninsured or underinsured, we need to cover these people right away. This is the clearest example I can imagine for why an employer-based health insurance system makes no sense. Fortunately, the solution is at hand: Enact Medicare for All now.  

Once We the People are united as “owners” of a national health program, we will finally have the power to quit paying a 30% surtax on medical expenditures to private insurance companies. They collect it from us daily to support the mind-boggling complexity of the financing system they’ve evolved since the passage of the HMO Act in 1973. That law has let an army of managers grow up between our health providers and us. By comparison, Medicare has a 2% overhead, and is clearly a better deal.  

The medical expenses incurred by this coronavirus pandemic are estimated to be up to 40% higher than usual. Instead of struggling to cover inflated pricing, we need to lower the costs and contain them going forward. We need a simpler system with guaranteed, quality health care for all for life.

It is time to change the law. Improve and expand Medicare which has been a successful public-private partnership for 55 years. It is not “government-run.” Doctors and hospitals remain in private hands. Only the way they are paid is public. With everyone in one system, we lose the bewildering and inadequate choice between inadequate and unaffordable insurance policies, and instead get our choice of doctors and hospitals. We’ll have more financial security when we get rid of networks and “out-of-network” surprise billing.

Medicare for All will not eradicate the current virus in a stroke, but it will give us better tools to contain it. The pandemic has made clear how interconnected we all are. Each of us needs coverage for ourselves and for everyone we come into contact with and everyone they come in contact with, and so on. If people could seek medical care and be treated without financial fear, they would not go out to work sick and bring the infection to everyone around them.

Even in more peaceful times, we in the U.S. pay twice as much and have worse health outcomes than countries with a national health plan. The U.S. is now on track to suffer the most catastrophic effects from the coronavirus pandemic among all nations. With COVID-19 cases doubling and unemployment growing every week, we cannot wait another day. Make Medicare for All part of the stimulus, but make it free standing so we will come out of the epidemic having solved the health care crisis we were already in before, and we will have better tools to get past the next novel virus. 

For a healthier, more just, and more resilient America, enact House Bill 1384 (the 2019 Medicare for All bill in the House)— now. 

Bill Walsh, a former member of a Medicaid advisory council in Utah, retired in Oregon where he serves on the Legislative Committee of Healthcare for All Oregon. He can be reached at [email protected].

 

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