Is America ready for a health plan for all? The single-payer health reform bill introduced in the Senate March 25 will be supported by consumer advocates, but it cuts insurance companies out of the equation. Industry is helping to craft other reform plans being developed by the Obama administraton and Senators Baucus and Kennedy.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced a single-payer health reform bill, the American Health Security Act of 2009, S. 703, in the U.S. Senate March 25. A copy of the bill is available here. (PDF)
After calling for such national legislation for years, a grassroots movement of citizen coalitions, nurses, unions and progressive medical groups like Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) will surely be rallying for the bill.
PNHP calls the plan “the most fiscally conservative option for reform” because it eliminates costly administrative and bureaucratic overhead from the delivery of health care. Insurance and associated administrative costs represented one-third of every dollar spent on health care, according to some analysts.
PNHP said the $400 billion saved annually can be redirected into clinical care that would cover all 46 million presently uninsured Americans and eliminate the co-pays and deductibles that everyone with insurance current pays.
The single-player plan is at odds with the health care reform proposals now getting the most attention. Those plans are being advanced by President Barack Obama and Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Those plans, still in development, promise to maintain a central role for the insurance industry and likely would involve a public mandate to purchase insurance, and public subsidies to enroll more low-income people in insurance programs. It is unclear who would fund those new enrollments under the plans, how they would contain growing Medicare and Medicaid costs, and how they would reduce the waste in the current system.
The White House and Baucus-Kennedy proposals will be a tougher sell to the public today, particularly after disclosures about the billions contributed to members of Congress by financial lobbyists and the unpopular financial bailouts.
Members of Congress have been heavily lobbied by the health care industry. Since 2005, the insurance industry has donated $2.2 million and drug companies donated more than $3.3 million to Congress members influential in shaping health care policy, according to Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group based in California.
The financial crisis and resulting foreclosures and job losses have elevated health care reform on the national priority list. Sanders’ bill gives the public an opportunity to rally behind a high profile patient-centered as opposed to profit-centered, health care reform program.
“This is excellent news for the nation’s health,” said PNHP national coordinator Quentin Young, a physician and past president of the American Public Health Association. “There is now an affordable cure for our dysfunctional health care system. In the face of our present economic calamity, this is an urgent necessity.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), has introduced a bill in the House, H.R. 1200, that is similar to the one authored by Sen. Sanders.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), re-introduced a single-payer bill in the House, H.R. 676, this year. Last year the bill had 93 co-sponsors.
Key aspects American Health Security Act of 2009, S. 703:
*Federally funded, the program will be administered by the states.
*The program would save at least $400 billion annually by eliminating the overhead and profits of the private, investor-owned insurance industry, and the complex paperwork imposed on physicians, hospitals and other providers. Money saved would provide comprehensive care for all.
*The program would fully fund community health centers, giving 60 million Americans now living in rural and underserved areas access to care.
*To address the critical shortage of primary care physicians and dentists, the bill provides resources for the National Health Service Corps to train an additional 24,000 health professionals.
*Comprehensive benefits, including coverage for dental, mental health, and prescription drugs.
*The program would be paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund. The fund would be supplemented by “modest” new taxes that would be less than what people now pay for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.