Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sen. Bernie Sanders and single-payer

By Susanne L. King, M.D. - Berkshire Eagle Online

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, has just introduced a single-payer health care reform bill into the United States Senate. This legislation stands in sharp contrast to the reform models offered by the White House and Sen. Max Baucus, which are similar to our current Massachusetts reform. Unlike Massachusetts, the Sanders bill would eliminate the many private insurance companies and create a "single payer" to administer health care funds.

Single-payer health care would save American taxpayers $400 billion in administrative costs, says Sanders, which would be enough money to provide health care coverage for everyone in our country. Sanders is a senator who knows how to save money at a time when taxpayers are paying billions to keep AIG afloat.

As we know from our Massachusetts experience with health care reform, preserving the role of private health insurance companies does not lead to universal coverage or contain rising health care costs. The Massachusetts reform program has not been affordable for the individual or for the state, and access to health care continues to be problematic, with nearly a quarter of the state's residents saying they had difficulty getting care in 2008.

The provisions of Senator Sander's bill are: (1) universal coverage; (2) comprehensive benefits, including mental health, dental and prescription drug coverage; (3) patient choice of doctors and hospitals; (4)fully-funded community health centers to provide access to care for the 60 million people living in rural and other underserved areas; and (5) resources for the National Health Service Corps to train 24,000 new health professionals to address the shortage of primary care doctors and dentists.

Massachusetts continues to have a critical shortage of primary care doctors, and providing health insurance for the uninsured through our current program has only made that deficiency more visible. Having health insurance in Massachusetts doesn't guarantee health care if you can't find a doctor when you are sick. Others with insurance can't get care because they can't afford their co-payments and deductibles.

Sanders' program would be paid for by taking the current sources of government health care spending, and combining them with modest new taxes that would be less than people now pay for insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses. Four hundred billion dollars would be saved annually by eliminating insurance company profits and overhead, as well as the paperwork that burdens doctors and hospitals.

Dr. Uwe Reinhardt said at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, "We have 900 billing clerks at Duke (a 900 bed university hospital). I'm not sure we have a nurse per bed, but we have a billing clerk per bed. . . it's obscene."

Doctors and hospitals are sick of the paperwork and the health care dollars that don't go for health care delivery. And everyone hates the intrusion of insurance companies into health care decisions. A poll published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that 64 percent of doctors in Massachusetts now support single-payer health care.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' legislation is a bold step forward. Five hundred physicians in Massachusetts have signed a letter to Sen. Kennedy, asking him to support a single-payer reform similar to Sanders' bill. Kennedy supports universal coverage, but would leave the current dysfunctional system of multiple insurance company payers intact. Kennedy has said, "Health care is not just a commodity . . . to be rationed based on the ability to pay. It is time to make universal health insurance a national priority, so that the basic right to health care can finally become a reality for every American."

Unfortunately, leaving the current system intact would not save the $400 billion now lost to administrative expenses. We ask Sen. Kennedy to listen to Massachusetts physicians and reject the lobbying forces of the profit-driven insurance industry. We also ask him to join Sen. Sanders in sponsoring the only solution for health care reform that will cover everyone at a cost we can afford.

Susanne L. King is a Lenox-based practitioner.

No comments:

Post a Comment