The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Lisa Savage is an Independent Green candidate for U.S. Senate.
In a U.S. Senate campaign with unprecedented spending by millionaire candidates and their wealthy sponsors, health care has been a hot topic. The Oct. 15 debate sponsored by Maine Public featured a lengthy exchange between the two corporate-party candidates criticizing each other for both health policies and fibs told about the other candidate’s actions on health policy.
It was a typically absurd discussion about health care that didn’t use the word or even mention the concept of “profit.” Researchers estimate that between 15 percent and 30 percent of health care costs in the United States are accounted for by the profit margin.
With a COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the U.S., voters everywhere cite “health care” as among their top concerns. As one of the few rich countries that lacks a system for universal health care, our economy continues to be pummeled by the recession brought on by pandemic-related shut downs. So Maine voters reply “jobs” and “the economy” along with health care when asked what issues are most important to them.
How are health care, jobs and the economy related?
Nearly 1 in 7 Maine workers lost their job when the pandemic hit, and many of them lost their health insurance at the same time.
Thousands in Maine lack health care coverage under the so-called Affordable Care Act because even if they have health insurance, they often can’t afford to use it. The premiums, deductibles, copays and prescription drug prices are out of reach for working class people.
When it came my turn at the debate to talk about health care, I said, “We’re looking at two parties that both accept money from health insurers, the people who have put profit into health care … and made it into a commodity rather than a human right.”
Quite simply, people want real health care. They don’t want insurance. They want health care that they can afford to use and that they can count on when someone in their family becomes seriously ill so that they do not lose their home or lose their life savings because of an illness.
I am often asked the very good question about Medicare for All: “But how will we pay for it?” The surprising answer: We’re already paying the cost of national health care — we’re just not providing it.
Physicians for a National Health Care Program compiled data for 2018 on per capita spending for health care in Europe, Canada and Japan. At $7,273 spent by the government per person, the U.S. was tied with Switzerland at the top of the chart. But in the U.S. an additional $3,847 was spent by private individuals. So total per person spending was a whopping $11,120, pre-pandemic.
Sadly, this enormous price tag doesn’t even buy the best health outcomes. On measures like infant mortality and maternal mortality we rank far below the top performing countries — countries who spend less per person on health care, often dramatically less. Also, sadly, most people whose medical bills cause them to file for bankruptcy had health insurance when they incurred those bills.
One word explains this high-priced, low-performing health care system: profit.
In the midst of a public health crisis, the time has never been better for the U.S. to join the rest of the world in getting the profit motive out of health care. Voters who agree with me about the urgent need for Medicare for All should rank me first on their ballots to send a message to the big money interests that rule Washington, D.C.