Published on Wednesday, August 27, 2003 by the Madison Capital Times
Time is Now for Universal Health Care
by Dave Zweifel
There are those who scoff at the assertion that if we took the administrative costs out of our jury-rigged medical system and coupled it with the tens of billions we currently spend on insurance premiums and other fees, we'd have enough money to provide much-needed health insurance for every American citizen.
Now there's a study that backs that up.
An article in a recent New England Journal of Medicine states that the private bureaucracy that collectively handles our health care cost Americans $294.3 billion in 1999 - the last year for which complete figures are available - or roughly $1,059 per person.
That, the report adds, is three times the $307 per person in paperwork costs that Canada spends on its national health insurance system. In other words, if we could cut our private administrative costs to the Canadian level, we'd have saved $209 billion that year.
The authors of the report found that those administrative costs accounted for 31 percent of the total health spending in '99. That's up from slightly less than 20 percent in 1969, the report said.
The NEJM article attributed the high costs to three factors. First, private insurers have high overhead that's only getting higher. Second, America's fragmented payment system drives up administrative costs for doctors and hospitals who must deal with hundreds of different insurance plans, referrals and complicated rules. And third, the increasing business orientation of hospitals and insurers has expanded their bureaucracy.
Applying those findings to Wisconsin, a separate report estimates that administrative costs here this year will hit $7.7 billion. The report concludes that $5.5 billion of this could be saved under a national health insurance program.
That, a group of local physicians says, equals $13,513 for each of Wisconsin's 409,000 uninsured residents - enough to provide universal coverage with money left over to offer seniors full prescription drug coverage and to upgrade coverage for others who are under-insured.
"Hundreds of billions are squandered each year on health care bureaucracy in our nation," said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard. "Americans spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as Canadians, who have universal coverage and live two years longer."
Unfortunately, this country's insurance companies, pharmaceutical giants and other corporate medical interests and charlatan politicians have fostered the myth that a government-run health system would be wasteful and inefficient.
The truth, however, is exactly the opposite and it's time for Americans to wake up to that fact.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times