Sundin column: Medicare-like plan is health cost solution
There is probably no more controversial issue in the United States today than how to solve our health-care problems. A hundred years ago medical science was in its adolescence, and if you were sick, you either survived or you died. Since then, enormous medical progress has been made, extending our lives by decades. The current problem is the rising cost that goes with that progress and how best to make it available to everyone regardless of their means.
As the cost of health care began to rise, health-care insurance became the best way of protecting people from medical costs beyond their ability to pay, and it became common for employers to provide that insurance for workers. But as a result of upwardly spiraling costs, the cost of health insurance now exceeds what both individuals and employers can afford. Clearly health care has become a problem looking for a solution, and the system we have relied on for decades is no longer feasible.
The so-called Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is not the answer. It is a monstrosity cobbled together by the insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital industries to protect their profits at the expense of the public. A government-operated single-payer plan (similar to Medicare) was not even considered, and Big Pharma made sure the law prohibited the federal government from negotiating the cost of drugs.
The health-insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital industries are the primary reason medical costs in the U.S. are so much higher than anywhere else in the world. High executive salaries, bloated bureaucracies and generous stockholder dividends increase the cost of health care in the U.S. by about 25 percent. Many so-called “nonprofit” hospitals dispense enough of their high incomes on multimillion dollar executive salaries and palatial hospitals and additions to maintain their nonprofit status.
The most outrageous offender is Big Pharma. Mary Boland devoted her Oct. 13 column to exposing its excesses. They include extending high drug prices by getting some minor modifications approved as a new patent by inside drug regulators and having those compliant regulators delay approval of lower-cost generic drugs. She also exposed the fallacy promoted by Big Pharma that huge profits are necessary to pay for the high cost of developing new drugs, when the truth is that it spends many times what it devotes to drug development on lobbying Congress (up to $300 million a year) and advertising its products. Big Pharma is also notorious for enormous price hikes and multimillion dollar executive salaries.
There is a crying need to put an end to all of these exploitations of the American public by the health-care industries. Medical expenses are the single largest cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. A medical emergency can wipe out a family’s savings, cause the loss of their home and eliminate any chance of the children receiving a college education, which is becoming increasingly essential to their future financial success.
A universal health-care plan similar to Medicare is the obvious solution. It would not only relieve families of concern over costly medical emergencies, but would also relieve employers of the financial burden of providing health insurance, putting them on a more even footing with competitors in the many counties throughout the world that have universal national health-care programs.
Obviously, to be successful, a universal health-care plan must be solvent, raising sufficient money to meet its expenses. It cannot be a giveaway program, but must be affordable to everyone. This may require a sliding scale of fees based on taxpayer incomes.
Getting the health-care industry off our backs will save multimillions of dollars every year that can go for health care instead of to giant corporations. Taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, which are responsible for many medical problems, higher health-care rates for smoking and obesity (which would be an incentive for healthier lifestyles), and penalties for not having regular physical check-ups, all of which increase medical costs, would contribute greatly to keeping the program financially solvent.
The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not provide universal health care for its citizens. If all the other nations can do it, there is no reason we cannot. Winston Churchill is credited with observing “You can count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else.” Let’s hope he was right.
P.S.: Amendment 69 is not the answer and deserves to be rejected.
Hal Sundin’s As I See It column appears on the first Thursday of the month.
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Centrists are likely extinct