Greater than 330,000 people in the USA died in the course of the pandemic because they were uninsured or underinsured. That grim statistic was reported this week by researchers on the Yale School of Public Health. Along with that staggering, preventable death toll, in 2020 alone, our “fragmented and inefficient healthcare system,” cost the U.S. $459 billion greater than if we had real, universal healthcare. The Yale team prescription to organize for the following pandemic: Medicare for All.
“Our current healthcare system is dysfunctional. It is awfully wasteful and expensive, and it’s cruel,” Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said as he opened a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Medicare for All last month.
“The American people understand as I do, that healthcare is a human right and never a privilege, and that we must end the international embarrassment of our great country being the one major nation on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care as a human right to all of its people,” Sanders continued. “Over 70 million Americans today are either uninsured or underinsured … there are thousands and thousands of individuals in our country who would really like to go to a health care provider, who need to go to the doctor, but cannot afford to achieve this. That is unacceptable, that is un-American, and this can’t be allowed to occur within the wealthiest country on earth.”
Sanders has introduced S.4204, the Medicare for All Act of 2022, with 14 Democratic Senators as co-sponsors. Similar laws can be before the House of Representatives. Medicare for All would lower the eligibility age for the federal Medicare medical insurance program from 65 to the time of birth.
Opponents of Medicare for All disparage it as “government-run” healthcare. This criticism is unsuitable. In the UK, for instance, the NHS, the National Health Service, is government-run. The federal government owns all of the hospitals and clinics, and the doctors, nurses and other staff are government employees. Within the U.S., the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service are government-run, similar to the NHS.
With Medicare for All, the federal government simply pays the bills because the “single payer,” saving enormous amounts of cash by removing the medical insurance corporations from the equation.
The hospitals, medical offices and laboratories all remain unchanged, primarily as private or non-profit institutions, exactly as they’re today. That is how our current Medicare system works for those over 65 years old. Medicare for All wouldn’t change that; it merely expands the population covered to everyone.
Medicare for All would dismantle the bloated, private insurance bureaucracy, saving tons of of billions of dollars annually. On the Budget hearing, Committee Chair Sanders summarized, “The six largest medical insurance firms in America last yr revamped $60 billion in profit, led by United Health Group which made $24 billion within the midst of the pandemic in 2021. But it surely’s not only the profits of the insurance firms … The CEOs of 178 major healthcare firms collectively made $3.2 billion in total compensation in 2020, up 31% from 2019. In response to Axios, in 2020, the CEO of Cigna, David Cordani, took home $79 million in compensation while people died.”
An evaluation produced by the Political Economy Research Institute, PERI, at UMass Amherst, features a “just transition” for the near 900,000 people employed by the medical insurance industry. Savings provided by a single-payer system could pay for a mixture of early retirement and retraining, lessening the impact on those employees.
Single-payer, or Medicare for All, is sensible in normal times, but we will not be in normal times. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has ripped the scabs off of so many sectors of our society, exposing and exacerbating inequities and a lethal lack of preparation.
The Yale study puts real numbers to it, noting the disproportionate impact on poor and low-income communities and on people of color.
Universal healthcare would result in a healthier population, more able to withstanding the impacts of the following pandemic. Regular, preventive doctor visits, the comfort and security of knowing that a needed procedure or hospital visit won’t result in bankruptcy or add to non-public debt, all contribute to a broader resilience. Citing a Gallup poll, the Yale researchers write, “resulting from apprehension about their ability to pay, 14% of US adults reported that even in the event that they experienced the 2 most typical symptoms of COVID-19, fever and dry cough, they’d still avoid looking for care.”
One other lesson of the pandemic is that when any of us is exposed, all of us are. Universal, effective and reasonably priced healthcare makes us all stronger and safer. The best technique to achieve that’s Medicare for All.