Healthcare is a complicated topic in America today; the only thing that everyone seems able to agree upon is that everyone has need of it at one point or another throughout their lives. Unfortunately, our country is faced with runaway healthcare costs and high uninsured rates, and there are vastly divergent opinions on how best to confront the problem. With that in mind, one potential solution — that of a single payer healthcare system — is caught up in a quagmire of misleading information and myths. Before a fair comparison of ideas can begin, these myths require unraveling.
Here are five of the most widely disseminated myths about single-payer healthcare:
“A single payer plan represents a shift toward a socialist economy.”
There are two types of national healthcare systems being proposed today, and the one with the most solid backing in America is a national health insurance program. Under this model, the government would be billed for medical services, but healthcare providers and organizations would remain private, and would be subject to free market forces; we see healthy competition in the parcel delivery industry, with several multi-billion-dollar corporations competing with the United States Postal Service. The difference between that, and what we have already, is that costs would be reduced through collective bargaining power, and overall healthcare expenses in America would either be reduced, or else increase at a slower rate than that which we presently see.
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“Government programs are inefficiently managed.”
What strikes us as inefficiency and over-expenditure is often taken out of context with the overall scope of government-managed organizations; we have to remember that costs are relative, and no program (public or private) is ever going to be managed with 100% efficiency. There are enormous sums of money involved in Medicare, for example, but the program’s overhead averages about 3%; it operates on the national level, so straight financial figures are much larger. By comparison, however, the total overhead (including profit) in a private insurance corporation ranges from 15-25%. If we look at that collectively, across the entire insurance industry, the straight-up overhead dwarfs that of the government-administered Medicare program.
“Waits for services would be extremely long due to people over-utilizing the system.”
In countries which have an established national healthcare insurance plan, emergency services and other vital healthcare measures are consistently provided immediately. Elective procedures do experience longer waiting periods, and frequently. However, if we were to maintain our current level of healthcare expenditure (we’re already spending twice as much per capita as other countries with single payer insurance plans) predictive models suggest that these elective wait times would disappear — even dropping below what is experienced in America today. In this case, the major difference between what we have now, and the NHI plan, would be the breadth of services made available to people who have need of them, who cannot presently afford them. The overall savings of an NHI plan would easily compensate for the increased in utilization of the system.
“Small businesses will suffer.”
There will be a period of adjustment; healthcare reform is one of many parts of our economy where progress is needed in new solutions. However, it can be demonstrated that most businesses will actually save money under a single payer system. Major multinational corporations with a strong presence in countries that have national health insurance programs frequently come out in favor of such programs. The overall savings in healthcare costs, compared to what the US spends on healthcare today, translate to savings over private insurance fees and a reduced tax burden for healthcare programs.
“The government will mandate what services would be made available.”
This is something that we already have in America today, only it isn’t the government: it’s the private insurance agencies. Medical professionals frequently have to request permission of insurance agencies or other private bodies before ordering treatments, prescribing drugs, scheduling surgeries, or performing other procedures. Even routine lab tests, which are often used to prove the existence of a problem, often require some evidence of the problem gathered by other, less reliable or definitive means, before they can be approved. By contrast, countries with national insurance plans typically only investigate medical practices when there is direct evidence of fraud, leaving medical professionals to do the jobs they’ve been trained to do. The government’s overriding concern is that of ensuring that a treatment or procedure is safe, and that it works to its intended effect, which we also have in America already.
There is much more information available about single payer healthcare plans, what one would mean for the American economy, and how a single payer plan compares to having a completely private insurance industry. Hopefully, as responsible efforts to educate the public as to the nature of the facts at hand become more prevalent, America will be able to make forward strides in addressing the present needs of its existing healthcare apparatus.