The Universal Notebook: Medicare for all

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There is a segment of American society that views government as the enemy and screams “socialism” any time a government program to improve health care is proposed.

Yet, according to a 2016 Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans (73 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans) favor federally funded health insurance for all Americans.

I’m with the American majority. I favor Medicare for all.

I start from the fundamental principle that health care is a human right. Our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are meaningless unless we have our health.

To withhold treatment because a patient is unable to pay is deeply immoral. Fortunately, the United States recognized the right to treatment with the Emergency Medical and Treatment Labor Act of 1986, which forbids the denial of care based on the inability to pay.

The Kaiser Family Foundation put the bill for uncompensated care at $84.9 billion in 2013. The total U.S. health-care cost is about $3 trillion a year, so covering the uninsured is not the reason the cost of medical care is so exorbitant.

On the other hand, health insurance companies are making record profits and their administrative overhead amounts to about 30 percent of the cost of health care in America.

Health care should not be a for-profit business. Some things are just too important to be left to the free market – things like national defense, transportation infrastructure, public education and health care.

When I was a kid back in the 1950s, opponents of a universal single-payer health care system got hopping mad at the very idea of what they called “socialized medicine” and implied that anyone who supported it was a commie. Fear-mongering and red-baiting were SOP in the 1950s.

Well, times have changed, Sen. McCarthy. Back in 1965, when Medicare was enacted, the American Medical Association was one of its biggest opponents. Now the AMA supports Obamacare and opposes Republican efforts to repeal and replace it with the draconian American Health Care Act, which would take health coverage away from 22 million Americans to give big tax breaks to the wealthy.

When House Republicans floated their health care plan, even Donald Trump concluded it was “mean, mean, mean” and urged Senate Republicans to come up with a bill that was “generous, kind, with heart.”

Senate Republicans failed miserably.

The Senate bill proposes to cut Obamacare subsidies by $408 billion and Medicaid by $772 billion over the next 10 years, while enacting $700 billion in tax cuts, half of which would go to the top 1 percent of households. I seriously do not know how Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Mitch McConnell live with themselves.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explained the Republicans’ rob-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich plan in The New York Times June 30 by suggesting the GOP had painted itself into a corner, promising to repeal a program that taxed the rich to expand health-care coverage. Repealing Obamacare inevitably means reducing access in order to cut taxes.

“So one way to understand this ugly health plan,” Krugman wrote, “is that Republicans, through their political opportunism and dishonesty, boxed themselves into a position that makes them seem cruel and immoral — because they are.”

Put most simply, liberals like myself see health care as a right and seek to increase the number of Americans with coverage as a matter of public policy. Democrats have been trying to pass some form of universal single-payer health care plan since FDR. Conservatives, as I understand it, see health care as a privilege and prefer to let the free market determine who can afford it.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act needs a lot of work, but it was a step in the right direction. The major problem with it was that fines for not enrolling (or taxes, as the Roberts Supreme Court decided they were) were not high enough to get healthy young people into the system.

That’s why we need Medicare for all. We need a system that covers young and old, healthy and sick, rich and poor.

The 20,000-member Physicians for a National Health Program has a plan that sounds good to me, proposing “to replace the ACA with a publicly financed National Health Program that would fully cover medical care for all Americans, while lowering costs by eliminating the profit-driven private insurance industry with its massive overhead.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders also has a Medicare-for-all plan that would be worth serious consideration, if we ever get back to a point in this country where doing what’s best for the American people takes precedent over doing what’s best for the wealthy.

It relies, of course, on increasing taxes and decreasing tax breaks, so Republicans will have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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