By Merton C. Bernstein
Special to The Kansas City Star
Posted on Sun, Nov. 06, 2005 

Faced with daunting health insurance costs, American enterprises are eliminating coverage or passing along more of the cost to employees and retirees.

State legislatures, particularly in Missouri, are shrinking Medicaid eligibility and benefits.

There is a better way to tame health-care budgets — eliminate administrative costs by covering everyone through Medicare.

Imagine if the electronics industry used thousands of differently shaped plugs on their appliances, each requiring a matching socket before they could be used. Absurd! But this describes American health insurance: doctors, hospitals, labs and other providers must match their billions of bills with thousands of differing insurance plan provisions, many designed to promote sales rather than sound treatment. Intelligent design? Hardly.

The resulting chaos is unnecessarily costly, with as much as 30 percent of our medical care payments going to process claims. In contrast, in 2004, Medicare administrative costs were 1.9 percent. If Medicare applied to everyone, insurers and care providers would be saved most of what they spend on trying to fit their innumerable plugs into that almost-infinite number of sockets.

Medicare-for-All is the practical answer to the double-digit health-insurance cost increases we’ve faced over the last four years. What’s standing in the way is the outmoded and discredited ideology that the market will discipline health-care costs.

In reality, health-care costs rage out of control. More and more individuals and families lose insurance protection, and medical care charges constitute one of the three major causes of personal bankruptcy. Health-care costs are strangling business and threaten the very existence of many employers with costs that competitors in countries with national health insurance do not face.

State budgets are staggered by the double whammy of having to increase Medicaid outlays for the poor while confronting surging health-care costs of government employees, including teachers.

Health maintenance organizations, touted as a cure, became a disease. Many HMOs collapsed, shriveled or bugged out, stranding their participants. Tax-favored medical savings plans have proven useless, except perhaps to the wealthy.

Tax breaks and other subsidies to encourage coverage only add to total medical care costs, delaying the goal of universal coverage. And as costs escalate out of control, that goal becomes more and more unattainable.

Applying Medicare to everyone would achieve annual savings on the order of $300 billion, enough to cover everyone with a comprehensive plan that surpasses most private coverage and means-tested public programs, even Medicaid.

Establishing and periodically recertifying eligibility for tens of millions of individuals and families under Medicaid incurs administrative costs 5 percent greater than Medicare’s administrative costs. Other federal and state means-tested programs produce similarly unnecessary costs.

For example, Massachusetts operates means-tested programs that use eight different formulas for eligibility and benefits despite similar program goals. Consolidating those programs into Medicare would save tens of billions in administrative costs and give greater assurance that individuals, especially children, would receive timely medical care.

Medicare uses private insurers as intermediaries between providers and patients. These private insurers, under Medicare, operate efficiently and at low cost. Their inclusion in Medicare-for-All would prevent the allegation of “too much government.”

Medicare-for-All would tame costs and make coverage universal. We can readily pay for it by pooling what we already spend on health care. That means no new taxes.

Business, government, individuals and families cannot afford the current costly chaos. It makes economic sense to cut nonbenefit outlays rather than eligibility and benefits.

Those avoidable costs are present but unseen in what we buy or cannot afford. Those unnecessarily higher prices reduce the ability to pay for other needed and desired goods and services. Healthier people incur lower health-care bills, work more productively and avoid the absences and other dislocations that sickness usually brings,

Everyone would be in better hands with Medicare-for-All.

Merton C. Bernstein is a Coles Professor of Law Emeritus at Washington University and a founding board member of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

© 2005 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.kansascity.com

 

Bullet Points for Legislators

  • Single Payer saves money.  For the past 20 years, states have commissioned studies on different types of health care systems.   In EVERY case, single payer was shown to be the only way to cover everyone and the only system that saved money and controlled costs.

  • Publicly financed does not mean government run health care.  YOU have publicly finance health coverage, but the government does not make decisions regarding your health care.

  • Cost conscious patients often don't get the care they need.   Most decisions are made by the doctor in concert with the patient, but the patient relies on the doctor's knowledge to make a decision.  Expensive tests and treatments cannot be ordered by the patient, only the doctor.

  • Lifestyle choices are not what is fueling high costs in health care.   The United States ranks low in general health indicators, but high in good health habits.  We smoke less, drink less and consume less animal fat that many other countries with better health indicators and much lower health care costs.

  • Businesses can accurately determine their health care costs and are not subject to unanticipated large premium increases.

  • It will reduce labor costs due to a more efficient way of financing health care, eliminating much wasteful administration.

  • Workers' Compensation costs will be reduced, likely by half, due to the fact that everyone has health coverage and there is no need for the medical portion.

  • It reduces the need for part time employees and provides easier recruiting.  There are no pre-existing conditions or Cobra issues.

  • Eliminates the oversight of health benefits and bargaining health coverage with employees.

  • It creates healthier personnel and more stable employees, reduces absenteeism and eliminates employer health coverage complaints.

  • It reduces employee health related debt and personal bankruptcies.

  • It frees up family income that can be spent on other goods and services, thus stimulating the economy.

Tips for Writing Letters to Editor

Follow guidelines for your local paper (word count, submission instructions, etc.)

Frame your letter in relation to a recent news item Use state specific data whenever possible (let us know if you need help finding some!)

Address counter arguments

Be aware of your audience and emphasize how Medicare for All is good for ALL residents of the state

Criticize other positions, not people Include your credentials (especially if you work in the healthcare field)

Avoid jargon and abbreviations

Don’t overload on statistics and minor details

Cover only one or two points in a single letter

Avoid rambling and vagueness

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