Our health care system is broken, and the American people are fed up. Whether it is access to basic health care, the ability to afford life-sustaining medicines (including insulin and asthma inhalers) or even to see the doctor of your choice, corporations are putting their profits ahead of patients' health and wellbeing.
We are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't guarantee its citizens healthcare. People skip care they require, suffer needlessly, and sometimes die.
Faced with a medical emergency, millions are plunged into financial crisis and, often, bankruptcy:
• We spend far more than other rich countries on health care, but have far more preventable deaths that could be avoided with proper health care.
• Half of Americans say they have put off medical care within the past year due to cost.
• Almost a third of Americans report rationing medicine because of high prices.
• There are also huge racial disparities in health coverage and care. The uninsured rate for Black Americans is 80% higher than for white Americans, while Latinos in the U.S. are two-and-a-half times more likely to be uninsured than white people. Black women are more than three times as likely to die due to pregnancy as white women.
• Medical costs are implicated in two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies.
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To borrow a phrase from the tech sector, these problems aren't bugs, they are features: These results are the unavoidable consequence of an uncoordinated for-profit health care and insurance system.
Standardizing Medicare's efficiencies
We know the solution and it's time to adopt it: Medicare for All.
Medicare for All would take the most popular and efficient part of our health care system - Medicare - improve it by eliminating out-of-pocket costs and expanding available services, and expand it to cover everyone in the United States.
Medicare for All would mean never having to fear another medical bill. It would mean your health decisions would be made in consultation with your doctor without insurance middlemen blocking your access to needed care. It would end medical bankruptcy. It would mean your insurance was no longer tied to your job, or whether you are doing paid work.
The current health care system doesn't just fail those who are uninsured. Not only does the current for-profit insurance system charge people too much - with hundreds of billions of dollars wasted every year on executive compensation, excess profits, advertising and a vast administrative bureaucracy - it also denies people access to the care they need.
Tens of millions of seniors are now enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. These are private insurance plans, paid for with Medicare dollars. Like other private insurance plans, these insurers have an incentive to deny people care they need - and they do. The Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general recently found that Medicare Advantage companies improperly deny requests for prior authorization of care, or payment for care, on a routine basis.
Recent reports from other government investigators have found that Medicare Advantage plans impose obstacles to needed care, including end-of-life care, for seniors in poor health to access
And insurers outside Medicare Advantage are no better. Despite the COVID-19 crisis continuing to spawn new variants that put people at risk, many insurers have cut the already threadbare promises they made to help Americans get the testing and COVID-19 treatment they need.
Addressing faults exposed by COVID
The COVID-19 crisis has shined a light on the many fractures of our health care system. If you lost your job, you lost your insurance. While non-Covid care was postponed, insurance profits skyrocketed - because the companies make money when there's less care. The companies promised free COVID-19 related care for patients they insured - in stark contrast to the high co-payments and deductibles for other care - but they backed away from even those limited promises as soon as they could.
Across the nation, there is groundswell of support for Medicare for All. We have a record number of Medicare for All cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) has reintroduced Medicare for All legislation in the Senate with more than a dozen co-sponsors. Nearly 100 local governments, including Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, have passed municipal resolutions in support of Medicare for All, with the number quickly growing.
It's time to end the shame of people turning to GoFundMe to tell their stories and plead for money for life-saving care for loved ones. It's time to take the power of the hundreds of thousands of heart-breaking dramas on crowdfunding sites and use them to fuel the growing movement for health care justice.
We can either continue down the path of corporate profit and human suffering, or we can do what every other rich nation has done and guarantee universal coverage. It's not a hard choice.
Debbie Dingell is the U.S. Representative for Michigan's 12th Congressional District. Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Opinion: Make Medicare's convenience and efficiency available to all