Despite major improvements made by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), our health care system remains in crisis. Today, we have the most expensive, inefficient, and bureaucratic health care system in the world. We spend almost $10,000 per capita each year on health care, while the Canadians spend $4,644, the Germans $5,551, the French $4,600, and the British $4,192. Meanwhile, our life expectancy is lower than most other industrialized countries and our infant mortality rates are much higher.
Further, as of September 2016, 28 million Americans were uninsured and millions more underinsured with premiums, deductibles, and copayments that are too high. We also pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
The ongoing failure of our health care system is directly attributable to the fact that it is largely designed not to provide quality care in a cost-effective way, but to make maximum profits for health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, and medical equipment suppliers. That has got to change. We need to guarantee health care for all. We need to do it in a cost-effective way. We need a Medicare-for-all health care system in the U.S.
Let’s be clear. Not only is our dysfunctional health care system causing unnecessary suffering and financial stress for millions of low- and middle-income families, it is also having a very negative impact on our economy and the business community—especially small- and medium-sized companies. Private businesses spent $637 billion on private health insurance in 2015 and are projected to spend $1.059 trillion in 2025.
But it’s not just the heavy financial cost of health care that the business community is forced to bear. It is time and energy. Instead of focusing on their core business goals, small- and medium-sized businesses are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources trying to navigate an incredibly complex system in order to get the most cost-effective coverage possible for their employees. It is not uncommon for employers to spend weeks every year negotiating with private insurance companies, filling out reams of paperwork, and switching carriers to get the best deal they can.
And more and more business people are getting tired of it and are asking the simple questions that need to be addressed.
Why as a nation are we spending more than 17% of our GDP on health care, while nations that we compete with provide health care for all of their people at 9, 10, or 11% of their GDP? Is that sustainable? What impact does that have on our overall economy?
Why are employers who do the right thing and provide strong health care benefits for their employees at a competitive disadvantage with those who don’t? Why are some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America, like Walmart, receiving massive subsidies from the federal government because their inadequate benefits force many of their employees to go on Medicaid? Why are most labor disputes in this country centered on health care coverage? Is it good for a company to have employees on the payroll not because they enjoy the work, but because their families need the health insurance the company provides?
Richard Master is the owner and CEO of MCS Industries Inc., the nation’s leading supplier of wall and poster frames—a $200 million a year company based in Easton, Pa. “My company now pays $1.5 million a year to provide access to health care for our workers and their dependents,” Master told Common Dreams. “When I investigated where all the money goes, I was shocked.”
What he found was that fully 33 cents of every health care premium dollar “has nothing to do with the delivery of health care.” Thirty-three percent of his health care budget was being spent on administrative costs.
“I came to realize that insurers comprise a completely unnecessary middleman that not only adds little if any value to our health care system, it adds enormous costs to it,” Master said.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Every other major country on earth has a national health care program that guarantees health care to all of their people at a much lower cost. In our country, Medicare, a government-run single-payer health care system for seniors, is a popular, cost-effective health insurance program. When the Senate gets back into session in September, I will be introducing legislation to expand Medicare to cover all Americans.
This is not a radical idea. I live in Burlington, Vt., 50 miles south of the Canadian border. For decades, every man, woman, and child in Canada has been guaranteed health care through a single-payer, publicly funded health care program. Not only has this system improved the lives of the Canadian people, it has saved businesses many billions of dollars.
The American Sustainable Business Council, a business advocacy organization, started a campaign in April in support of single-payer health care. To date, more than 170 business leaders have signed on to this initiative in more than 30 states.
Here is what these business leaders have written:
“All supporters of the campaign believe that a single-payer health care system, which is what the vast majority of the industrialized world embraces, will deliver significant cost-savings, in large part by eliminating the wasteful practices of the insurance industry that are designed for financial advantage.”
In my view, health care for all is a moral issue. No American should die or suffer because they lack the funds to get adequate health care. But it is more than that. A Medicare-for-all single-payer system will be good for the economy and the business community.
Bernie Sanders is the junior U.S. senator from Vermont.