Our current profit-driven health care system is closing physician practices and burning out doctors. The average American physician spends nearly nine hours a week wrangling with insurance companies and the average medical practice spends $72,000 per doctor per year just dealing with insurers. That's why a majority of Humboldt physicians support a single payer health program. In a recent guest opinion ("Setting the Record Straight," Dec. 28, 2017), North Coast state Assemblymember Jim Wood explained his rationale for stalling Senate Bill 562, The Healthy California Act. Looks like Wood is going against medical advice.
The Healthy California Act is the first step toward solving Humboldt's health care ills. It would eliminate our crazy quilt of public programs and private for-profit insurance in favor of a single public agency funding health care for all Californians. Under this plan, hospitals and medical offices would remain as they are. All that would change is who pays the bills.
Wood says he supports universal coverage but "we just need to take the time to find the right path." These days, when the average patient with private insurance pays a $4,000 deductible before insurance pays anything, having coverage is no guarantee for health care. California State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones thinks single payer is the right path. We don't need to waste more time looking for another.
Wood claims that a transition to a single payer plan would be too complicated. In reality eliminating multiple payers and profit would simplify the system. Under S.B. 562, doctors would no longer be micromanaged by private insurance or burdened by costly paperwork. Patients would be free to choose any doctor or hospital without worrying about who is in or out of network because there would be no networks. We could change jobs or locations, get married or divorced without worrying about health coverage. We'd simply present a health ID card and get health care. Medical bills, premiums, deductibles, co-pays and collection agencies would all become obsolete. Deferring medical treatment because of cost would become a thing of the past. No one would have to gamble on affordability or benefit packages because everyone would be equally covered with comprehensive, high quality benefits. The Healthy California Act is radical in its simplicity. It would return the wasted health care dollars and talents of skilled professionals to their original intended purpose: patient care, public health and medical research.
Let's look to history. In July of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare, a government funded insurance program into law. By 1966, Medicare coverage for all Americans 65 and older took effect. Was it all that complicated?
Wood says we can't afford a single payer system. A single payer program dedicated to the public's health instead of corporate profits would cost us less and give us more. A streamlined payment system would dramatically lower administrative costs. The layers of insurance bureaucracy and reams of insurance bills would be eliminated. A single buyer, negotiating on behalf of all of us, would have tremendous bargaining power to lower the price of drugs and medical equipment. Seventy percent of the California health budget is already being paid for with our taxes. A recent analysis by the nonpartisan Political Research Institute found that a California single payer system could be a funded by eliminating premiums and substituting an additional modest sales tax on non-essential items plus gross receipts taxes for businesses making over $2 million. This would create savings for households, businesses and the state.
Wood says that single payer advocates are a small vocal group implying that their views aren't shared by most of his constituents. Surveys show that the majority of Californians support single payer health care. S.B. 562 has been endorsed by the cities of Eureka, Arcata, Manila, Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond, and by the counties of Marin, Santa Clara and San Francisco. It is supported by the California Nurses Association, the California Teachers Association and many other health, education and labor organizations.
A single payer system won't solve all our problems. But it is far better than the patchwork system we have now with private health insurance companies that look at health care as a commodity geared toward making a profit for shareholders. With single payer, all California residents and politicians, from people who are unemployed, to working families and all the way up to the governor would have the same health coverage and interest in maintaining a high quality, well-functioning health system.
S.B. 562 has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party but powerful interests want the bill kept off the floor of the Legislature until it shrivels and dies. Wood and the Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon say the bill lacks details. Solutions can't be worked out as long as the bill is held hostage in the Rules Committee while the select committee that Wood chairs obfuscates. Meanwhile our health system here in Humboldt is crumbling, premiums are up 33 percent and the new tax bill will lead to large cuts in Medi-Cal and Medicare, on which many local residents depend. As our representative, Jim Wood should be responding to the needs of his constituents by championing the Healthy California Act, S.B. 562. We need actions, not more studies. We don't have any time to lose.
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