“You can always trust the Americans to do the right thing, once they’ve tried everything else.”
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 31 – No 08 – August 2012
Winston Churchill’s iconic remark, reportedly issued at the dawn of America’s entry into World War II, is equally applicable to the present American health care debate and the crisis that spawned it. Regardless of whether you are elated or disappointed with June’s historic Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, it is certainly no panacea for the problems facing U.S. health care. Even with the law intact, and despite its best intentions, it will still leave some 25 million uninsured, underinsure millions more, expand the corporatization of health care, and do little to control the escalating costs of care over the long term. So it’s clear we need to do the right thing: the creation of a national, universal, publicly funded health care system, free of the corrupting power of profit-oriented health insurance, and at the same time capable of passing constitutional muster. In short, the right thing is an expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program, otherwise known as single-payer.
Don’t be so shocked. For the last 30 years, we have tried all the alternatives, and none of them have worked. We have experimented with HMOs, PPOs, high-deductible health plans, health savings accounts, pay-for-performance, capitation, and disease management. These ideas have been promoted in various iterations, often with great fanfare, by public and private payers alike, yet none of them have shown long-term success at bending the cost curve. And the promise of the latest reforms du jour, such as Accountable Care Organizations and Patient-Centered Medical Homes, is speculative at best. American health care is unique among the world’s democracies in that it was never planned in terms of enabling legislation or explicit constitutional authority. As others have stated, our employer-based insurance system, which now covers about 160 million Americans, was an accident of history. Its lineage can be traced to FDR’s wage and price control policies during World War II, where employers were permitted to offer workers health insurance in lieu of higher wages as a job inducement. This benefit has evolved piecemeal into the Rube Goldberg complexity that is contemporary employer-sponsored health insurance, with some 1,200 private plans each doing the same things – medical underwriting, coordination of benefits, claims adjudication and denial, marketing, public relations, lobbying, litigating, and paying shareholder dividends and inflated CEO salaries while forcing individuals to pay a higher share of premiums, increased deductibles, expanded copays, or a combination of all three. Taken as a whole, private insurers’ activities are duplicative, inefficient, wasteful of scarce health care resources, conducive of job lock, and completely misdirected in supporting the 21st-century health care agenda that America needs and deserves.