Winchell Dillenbeck: Assemblymember Wood’s political double talk on single-payer

The Guest Opinion piece, “Healthcare reform not advanced by false facts, simplistic solutions,” (Union, Jan. 10) written by Assemblymember Jim Wood is nothing more than political double talk. Surveys show 65 percent of Californians support Single-Payer Health Care. The people are moving towards a Single-Payer Health Care system and it is only a question of when politicians decide to come along.

The California Democratic Platform advocates legislation to create and implement a publicly funded Single-Payer Health Care system that is privately delivered because health care is a human right and not a privilege. Unfortunately, Democrats often make bold proclamations that health care is a human right even when they display open resistance.

Wood states “I support universal health care.” However, he does not say he supports a Single-Payer Health Care system. Single-Payer and universal are not the same. A system of universal coverage means two slightly different things. First, it refers to a system where every citizen can access either public or private health insurance. Second, it refers to a system where every citizen obtains free or low-cost basic services for a government-mandated set of standard benefits.

The concept of universal health care is often incorrectly equated to a single-payer, government health care system where all medical expenses are paid by one entity, usually the government. There are no private insurance companies. The government alone authorizes and pays for health care services. Eliminating multiple payers and profit simplifies the system. Patients are free to choose any doctor or hospital without worrying about who is in or out of network because there are no networks. Everyone is equally covered with comprehensive, high quality benefits.

Wood claims he is not beholden to corporate interests and pharmaceutical companies. Insurance companies spend untold amounts of money to defeat Single-Payer. Pharmaceutical companies join in this battle because a government run program will have a strong bargaining position against them and drive down their notoriously high prices. Politicians are beholden to corporate interests and Wood is no exception. When Wood refers to universal health care, he does not rule out insurance companies being included in the system because he takes financial contributions from corporations that are in favor of protecting their profits.

Health care is at the tipping point. Health care costs have doubled in the last 10 years. Health insurance premiums have been rising 12.68 percent over the past 15 years. The average patient with private insurance pays a $4,000 deductible before insurance pays anything and having insurance is no guarantee for health care. The average family of four pays out an average of $23,000 in health care costs each year. Health care is now 20 percent of the GDP compared to 10 percent in the rest of the Western world.

Wood criticizes advocates for supporting a system with no health insurance premiums, no co-pays, no limit to benefits, and no insurance companies. He does not address the fact that other western countries pay no or little costs to health care. It is possible when funded properly in a more efficient system. While the United States and Canada pay approximately the same amount of taxes per individual, Canada receives comprehensive health care while the United States must pay additional money for its health care.

Wood says advocates claim health insurance companies spend 30 to 35 percent on overhead is not true. It is true. Let me explain. Wood says that state law holds health insurance companies to a 15 percent “medical loss ratio which means that they can only spend 15 percent on administration.” The law actually states that administrative costs cannot exceeds 20 percent for individual and small group insurers and 15 percent for large group insurers. Eighty percent of health insurance is provided through the individual and small group insurers.

Administrative costs for insurers is only part of the whole administrative cost. What is also included in administrative costs is another 10-15 percent for medical providers to deal with the insurance companies on claims. Every insurer is complicated in its own way. Hospitals and physicians billing departments are spending tremendous sums of money dealing with these insurers to argue over claims and navigate the rules of the myriad insurance plans they contract with. The average American physician spends nine hours a week wrangling with insurance companies spending $84,000 per year.

Finally, there is an additional administrative cost of 3 percent for the insurance agent.

All experts are unanimous. Every study on Single Payer Health Care including Berwick and Hackbarth, National Academy of Sciences, and the Rand Corporation come to the same conclusion. Insurance is a “no added value” player. Waste in our current health care system is 33 to 35 percent. The system is fractured with no standardization. Eliminating multiple payers would simplify and streamline the payment system dramatically lowering administrative costs.

Wood states that “Health care providers have to be paid fairly so they will move to rural areas to meet the need.” The truth is rural communities such as Humboldt County will benefit. Single Payer Health Care creates a system in which all health providers will be paid the same amount regardless of the age or income of the patient including Medicare, Medi-Cal and Medicaid payments. Health providers will no longer have to decide which type of client they are serving nor where they are serving the client. The cost of health care will be transparent.

Wood states advocates claim that “one in four seniors has gone into bankruptcy because of health care.” He quotes the article in the May 2017 Money that “bankruptcy filings dropped about 50 percent, from 1,536,799 in 2010 to 770,846 in 2016.” He further quoted that “medical bills had been a leading cause of bankruptcy before health care coverage expanded under the ACA.” This is not accurate. Personal bankruptcies sky rocked in 2008 due to the mortgage crisis and the collapse of the economy. The United States is the only Western nation that medical bills are the cause for bankruptcy. Americans bury their medical debt on credit cards until they have reached their limits and have no choice but to file bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filings have returned to their levels prior to the 2008 mortgage crisis.

Single Payer Health Care will change the delivery of services in California. When we remove health care from an employer based system and reduce health care costs significantly from 20 percent to 10% GDP, companies will have more money to create jobs while increasing wages. Additionally, individuals can change jobs, get married or divorced without worrying about health coverage being tied to their employer.

Wood claims a transition to a Single-Payer plan would be complicated. A Single-Payer Health Care system can be implemented in a reasonable amount of time if there is the political will to pass the legislation and move on to the implementation phase. In Taiwan, the legislative and political process to establish Single-Payer lasted 18 months. It was implemented in less than one year.

Wood states “I am not interested in a simple answer to a complex issue.” Single-Payer is the simple solution. It is the politicians with their political double talk that try to make you believe that the solution is complex and only they can provide the answer. The fact is that Single-Payer Health Care is working in the rest of the western world at half the cost.

This is an election year. It is time to hold Wood accountable for his actions.

Winchell Dillenbeck is a McKinleyville resident and member of Health Care for All – Humboldt.


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