Mmmm . . . C is for coverage, that's good enough for meThis evening I attended a panel at Pitt on universal health care. Panelists representing physicians, insurance companies, economists, and health policy makers discussed the benefits and drawbacks of a single (government) payer plan, rather than the current convoluted system of private, ostensibly market-driven insurance companies that only some Americans can afford. The overarching problem is that America spends more than twice that of other developed countries on healthcare, to cover a much smaller portion of its people. Inequality and discrimination are inherent to the system, leaving the least powerful citizens to pay outrageous prices or forego basic healthcare. Insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies ensure that the system won't change.
Scores of powerpoint slides were devoted to plans and costs for transitioning to universal coverage, generally pointing to the elimination of insurance administrative costs (which, if you believe their figures, account for more than 1% GDP). Several speakers called for a repeal of the Bush tax cut, and others promoted small payroll taxes that would be less than current insurance costs (leading to net gain for employees). The evening culminated in Gabe's invoking a bar graph comparing insurance coverage across all of the developed democracies, singing "One of these things is not like the other" in a Cookie Monster voice.
Later that evening, someone pointed out that he would rather see the nation focus on its energy policy before its healthcare policy. I don't agree, even though I strongly support both issues. Like most Americans, I optimistically (and naively) expect to see technology mitigate climate change before it's too late. I admit to having trouble facing a problem so dire and yet so seemingly distant. Even when I know it's not distant. Yet the uninsured (like everyone else in my family) affect me in a more immediately salient way. I worry about my little brother having an accident and my dad's inability to get sufficient allergy treatment. And about families with small children forced into emergency rooms in lieu of preventative care. I wish we all had a safety net.
While the thought of having the government dictate which treatments are covered and which aren't (particularly when it comes to birth control and other controversial medicine), I believe a single payer system really is the best way to go. It may be optimistically naive, but the simplicity will trump everything else. And I hope to see this (and energy policy) given sufficient discussion in the upcoming elections.