Dr. Sam Metz is mad as hell about health care. As a practicing anesthesiologist, Dr. Metz knows firsthand the challenges involved in providing quality health care for his patients, having spent years struggling in a profit-based system. Dr. Metz is critical of a health insurance industry that receives billions of dollars annually while Americans with and without health insurance lose their homes and their lives because they cannot afford medical care.
“Right now, Oregon already pays more than enough money to provide comprehensive health care to everyone in the state,” said Metz. “Why aren’t we getting that money? Because we pass that money through private companies. They are extraordinarily inefficient at turning premium dollars into health care.”
As a member of the Physicians for a National Health Program and the Mad as Hell Doctors, Metz is part of a growing coalition of doctors and health care providers who are fed up with the current system. “For every five dollars that we pay in insurance premiums, the insurance company keeps one dollar for itself. That’s a 20% overhead,” he laments. “Out of the other four dollars that get passed on to providers, we spend another dollar — another 20% — trying to collect from insurance companies. This is an industry that denies 30% of all new claims, not because they are bad people, but because it’s good business. That’s a 40% loss before our premium dollars get turned into health care.”
For Metz and a growing number of health care activists, the solution can be found by taking health care decisions out of the hands of insurance companies and politicians. He asks, “Who should be making the life and death decisions about how much health care we get, who gets it, who’s going to pay for it, and more importantly, what health care we are not going to get? Insurance executives who are legally beholden to the financial interests of their company, and US congresspeople who are practically beholden to campaign donors? Neither are capable of putting our medical interests first.”
“Nobody likes to think they are going to have their sick child’s care denied by an insurance administrator who has to look after their company, or by members of Congress who have to look after their election. There has got to be a better way to do it. Single payer offers a solution.”
Single payer health care, which is also known as universal coverage. is a financing system in which one entity acts as administrator or “payer,” collecting all health care fees and paying all health care costs. Currently, there are tens of thousands of different health care organizations and billing agencies, which creates an enormous amount of administrative waste. In a single-payer system, all hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers bill one entity for their services. This alone greatly reduces administrative waste and saves money, which can be used to provide care and insurance to those who don’t already have it.
Harvard researchers estimate that administrative costs consume 31 cents of every health care dollar in the United States. By comparison, single payer systems in the United States such as those provided by Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs have administrative costs that are less than 4%. A study by the General Accounting Office estimated that single payer health care would save 10% on health care costs by slashing administrative waste, which is enough to cover everyone who is uninsured.
There is evidence that universal health care in Oregon could be a boom for the state’s economy. Says Metz, “If Oregon goes to a single payer system, there will be so much more demand for health care from people that have been postponing it, delaying it, or didn’t know they needed it. National estimates say that in Oregon, we could have 35,000 new jobs.”
“As for the business environment in Oregon, imagine it being the only state in the union where you will never have a labor management dispute over health care.”
Metz cites the potential savings in health care dollars as a reason for embracing a single payer health care system. “When it comes to reducing the administrative costs of health care, the government is ten times more efficient than private industry.”
Single payer health care systems provide better health care to more people for less money. “American health care is more rationed than any other place in the industrialized world,” says Metz. “In other industrialized countries, patients see their physicians two to four times more often than we do, they spend more days in hospital per year than we do, and they getting more care than we are. They are spending half as much, and yet they are healthier than we are. If consumers put their premium money in a single payer system, there would be plenty of wealth to offer health care for everyone.”
Studies estimate that it would cost about $225 billion to provide comprehensive health care to everyone in United States. Single payer health care could save around $350 billion a year. In Vermont, where they recently passed universal health care coverage, consumers are already saving about 5% on health care costs by not passing their money through private insurance companies.
On February 4, 2013, the first day of the legislative session, Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) will be rallying on the capitol steps in Salem to demonstrate support for universal health care. Organizers hope that with a large enough presence, HCAO will succeed in getting the issue on the agenda of politicians who can move forward on legislation.
HCAO is a coalition of doctors, health care providers, business owners, community organizers, politicians, and residents on a mission to create a comprehensive, equitable, publicly funded, high-quality, universal health care system. Said an HCAO spokesperson, “We’ve been working over the last year to establish a broad coalition of over 62 member organizations and 20 grassroots groups of local supporters, and we’ve just begun to grow!”
“Representative Michael Dembrow has reintroduced the Affordable Health Care for All Oregon Act, and it is time to get behind the bill and push for passage. In order to pass this bill into law, we need to create a massive grassroots movement that takes action and is impossible to ignore,” according to HCAO.
HCAO and other health care organizers are planning a day of activities on the capitol steps in Salem, including a rally, marches, and lobbying for health care as a human right. Organizers are asking everyone to wear red to demonstrate solidarity for universal, publicly funded health care. In Southern Oregon, local organizations are helping to arrange transportation. Save the date and contact your local group to arrange a rideshare or reserve a spot on a bus.
The round-trip cost for the bus is $30. Scholarships are available. To reserve space, contact Wes Brain at (541) 482-6988 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit Health Care for All Oregon or Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice.