– Dr. Steffie Woolhandler is a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization of 17,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance. She is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the school’s General Internal Medicine Fellowship program. The views expressed are her own. —
President Obama, at today’s summit and in his proposal earlier this week, has embraced a deeply-flawed bill – the Senate bill – as his model for reform.
That bill would leave about 24 million people uninsured in the year 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Leaving 24 million people without health insurance is neither “universal care” nor even serious reform. As my research team has recently shown, that 24 million uninsured people would translate into about 24,000 unnecessary deaths annually. As a doctor, I find that prospect completely unacceptable.
Sen. Harry Reid, in his opening remarks at the summit, cited our study about 45,000 deaths annually due to lack of insurance (with about 45 million currently uninsured). He also cited another recent study we published showing that 62 percent of bankruptcies are linked to medical bills and illness, and that three-quarters of those bankrupted had health insurance when they first got sick. But when it comes to a remedy, the senator – and the president, I regret to say – offer the wrong prescription.
Their proposal is based on handing over $440 billion in taxpayers’ money to the private health insurance industry, the cause of the problem in the first place. Their rationale is to subsidize purchase of the insurers’ shoddy policies, which are riddled with gaps like ever-increasing co-pays, deductibles and uncovered services. Decades of experience show that the private insurance industry can neither control health care costs, nor give American families the health coverage they need. Many states already regulate insurance premiums and coverage, so merely regulating private insurers is not the solution. Moreover, the Senate plan to send $440 billion into the coffers of the profit-driven insurance industry will give them even more financial and political power to block future reform.