Monday, June 13, 2005

72 percent

Did you know that 72% of Americans agree that we need government-guaranteed health insurance for all? That's a very large majority. So what's the problem. Paul Krugman takes a look at it in his latest column entitled, "One nation, uninsured". Here's part of what he says:

Let's ignore those who believe that private medical accounts - basically tax shelters for the healthy and wealthy - can solve our health care problems through the magic of the marketplace. The intellectually serious debate is between those who believe that the government should simply provide basic health insurance for everyone and those proposing a more complex, indirect approach that preserves a central role for private health insurance companies.

A system in which the government provides universal health insurance is often referred to as "single payer," but I like Ted Kennedy's slogan "Medicare for all." It reminds voters that America already has a highly successful, popular single-payer program, albeit only for the elderly. It shows that we're talking about government insurance, not government-provided health care. And it makes it clear that like Medicare (but unlike Canada's system), a U.S. national health insurance system would allow individuals with the means and inclination to buy their own medical care.

The great advantage of universal, government-provided health insurance is lower costs. Canada's government-run insurance system has much less bureaucracy and much lower administrative costs than our largely private system. Medicare has much lower administrative costs than private insurance. The reason is that single-payer systems don't devote large resources to screening out high-risk clients or charging them higher fees. The savings from a single-payer system would probably exceed $200 billion a year, far more than the cost of covering all of those now uninsured.

We are headed for a truly dangerous situation. Emergency rooms are being closed across the country because of their overuse by the uninsured. And I like the point made by a commenter to this article: those within inadequate health care fall down on basic productivity because of unattended acute and chronic illnesses. We're going to lose our competitive edge as a nation if we don't take care of the health of its people.

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