Forcing private insurance for health care won’t work

Posted April 02, 2009, at 7:46 p.m.

Mandates to buy private insurance are not the answer.

You may have heard that a single payer, not-for-profit national health care program that cuts out the insurance middleman is “off the table”; that the insurance and drug industries have brought too much money to bear and that their lobbyists have already been successful at defeating our chance of affordable health care for all Americans with no exceptions.

This is not true.

It’s just another strategy in these industries’ last ditch effort to hold on to their high-paying jobs and profits. Broadcasting their “Mission Accomplished” message is one of their ways of attempting to discourage those who want real reform in our health care system — just like all the untrue hype about all the shortcomings of the system in Canada.

I am just one of many tens of millions, the majority of Americans, including the majority of American physicians, who urge the immediate passage of H.R. 676, the U.S. National Health Care Act, a bill before Congress. As you may know, H.R. 676 is an improved and expanded Medicare-for-all, that is, a single-payer national health insurance program, providing care that is publicly financed but largely privately delivered.

This fundamental health reform — which enjoys solid majority support among physicians and the public — has become even more urgently needed in view of our severe economic recession. Private, for-profit health insurance companies add cost but no value to the health care system. The administrative waste associated with the private insurance-based industry — enormous paperwork, marketing costs, and other costs that have nothing to do with delivering care — consumes 31 cents of every health care dollar. A large amount of that cost is the obscenely high compensation for CEOs and upper managers in this profit-driven industry.

Mandates to buy private insurance are not the answer. Experience with mandate plans in Washington state (1993), Oregon (1992) and Massachusetts (1988 and today), shows they simply don’t work, achieving neither universal health care nor cost containment. Some of these plans offer a Medicarelike, public option that people could buy into, but experience with Medicare shows that the private plans refuse to compete on a level playing field. They cherry pick healthier patients and insist on more than their share of payment.

Single-payer health reform, an improved Medicare-for-all, is the only reform model that offers $400 billion in annual savings in administrative costs. It is the only approach that contains effective cost-containment provisions such as bulk purchasing and global budgeting.

Support for single payer is extensive. In a peer-reviewed statistical study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 59 percent of U.S. physicians said they would support government action to establish national health insurance. In a recent Associated Press poll, 65 percent of the respondents said, “The United State should adopt a uni-versal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxes.”

Single-payer health reform is embodied in H.R. 676, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. It had 93 co-sponsors in the 110th Congress, the most of any health reform legislation.

What can you do to help make this a reality? A quick call, e-mail or letter to Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, President Obama and the new Web site www.healthreform.gov/contact/index.html will make all the difference.

Mike Shunney of Rockland is a member of Maine Healthcare Reform.

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