At the 2021 League of Women Voters California Convention, Dr. Susan Rogers, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, gave an eye-opening talk on inequities in health care. According to Dr. Rogers, historical inequities and are perpetuated by our current for-profit insurance system. She then presented how a single payer, government sponsored Medicare-for-All healthcare program would address inequities and ensure widespread access to essential care.
Rogers presented data showing that the US is an outlier among industrialized countries in terms of healthcare spending versus health outcomes. The US spends the most money per capita compared to other developed nations, but has one of the lowest average life expectancies and one of the highest maternal mortality rates. The pandemic has laid bare that these rates are not distributed evenly throughout the country. For instance, early in the pandemic, deaths were substantially higher in communities of color. But even before the pandemic, the data was clear that women of color had a much higher chance of dying during childbirth.
Rogers then discussed redlining, a state-sponsored segregation policy and financial services practice that severely limited homeownership and wealth accumulation in communities of color. This in turn pushed people of color into oppressive, concentrated poverty. She said the current healthcare system only exacerbates the effects of redlining because it leaves people in poverty with very limited options. One’s ability to access quality health care largely depends on good employment, wealth, and a steady annual income, which specifically excludes the working poor and unemployed people.
Rogers also said that although Medicaid and Medicare reduced the number of uninsured people in the country when they were first established, that drop was temporary and the number rose again. The “middle-man” of private health insurance siphoned off hundreds of billions of dollars in wasteful administrative spending, funding that could have gone to actual medical services for people. The systemic underfunding of Medicaid has led to nearly half of all doctors not accepting new patients under the program.
“Being insured doesn’t ensure that you have access to care,” Rogers said. While the Affordable Care Act subsidizes premiums for those who can’t afford them, it doesn’t cover deductibles, which have risen out of proportion to people’s income over the past decade. The inability to pay these deductibles means either people may never get the health care they need, or they go into devastating medical debt.
Unfortunately, Rogers said, the current insurance system prioritizes making money over taking care of people. The result is hospitals often have to shut down in poor or rural areas, creating medical deserts. Insurance companies have the power to effectively deny people care, Rogers said. “Reform based on a private insurance system won’t solve anything” because under that private system companies are incentivized to maximize profit rather than provide care on par with other industrialized nations.
After laying out the problems with our current system, Rogers explained how a single payer system would improve the quality of life of all Americans. The structure and economics of single payer would allow physicians to serve patients without insurance companies getting in the middle, making decisions, and being a barrier between doctor and patient. Good health care would no longer be dependent on employment or wealth. The system would also help reduce inequities by putting facilities where they’re needed rather than where they can make the most money. It also would ensure access to preventative care and continued care for those suffering from chronic illnesses. Rogers emphasized that equitable health care is an issue we should all get behind because a single program will actually save money, and we’ll all be healthier if everybody’s healthier.
After Rogers’s talk, Henry Abrons, co-chair with Becky Stephens of the LWVBAE Health Care Team, outlined LWVBAE’s dedication to fighting for equitable health care. LWVBAE envisions participating in the reactivation of a recently dormant statewide network of Leagues and concerned members to promote the LWVUS position on health care, and hopes to encourage other Leagues to form their own committees in order to expand participation among League members to conduct education and advocacy on healthcare reform.
“We think that the League should be advocating for equitable universal health care and we consider that working for that is an integral part of making democracy work,” Abrons said. To join the Health Care Team and get actively engaged in this critical issue that impacts everyone, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To watch the full talk, click here: https://lwvc.files.wordpress.com/2021/06/caucus-health care.mp4
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