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Debating 'Medicare for All' System Is Good for Nation's Health, say Doctors

'Single-payer is the only health reform that pays for itself'

What's not affordable, says PNHP president Robert Zarr, is "keeping the current private-insurance-based system intact." (Photo:  Michael Fleshman/flickr/cc)

The idea of a single-payer healthcare system has entered the presidential debates—and that's a very good thing, a doctors group says, as it is "only equitable, financially responsible and humane cure for our healthcare ills."

In a statement released Friday by the non-partisan Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), its president, Dr. Robert Zarr, calls it "a welcome development," and also refutes a number of myths surrounding such a plan, sometimes referred to as a Medicare-for-all plan, including supposed high costs and lack of public support.

On cost, says Zarr, "Single-payer is the only health reform that pays for itself;" in contrast, "keeping the current private-insurance-based system intact is not [affordable.]"

Enacting a single-payer system would entail "[r]eplacing hundreds of insurers and thousands of different private health plans," and that, in turn, would mean "$400 billion in health spending would be freed up to guarantee coverage to all of the 30 million people who are currently uninsured and to upgrade the coverage of everyone else, including the tens of millions who are underinsured."

As far as the myth of lack of support, Zarr cites various surveys showing a single payer system is backed by a majority of Americans, and points to one survey finding as much as two-thirds of Americans support it, not to mention being backed by numerous medical, political, faith-based, and community organizations.

His statement also points to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health by PNHP members Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, who write that in our current privately financed healthcare system, in fact, taxpayers are footing the bill for about 64 percent of U.S. health spending.

The statement comes days after presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders released the details of his healthcare proposal, saying it is "time for our country to join every other major industrialized nation on Earth and guarantee health care to all citizens as a right, not a privilege."

The plan was welcomed by the 185,000-member National Nurses United, with executive director RoseAnn DeMoro writing, "Instead of being held hostage to a corporate system based on profits and price gouging, with Sanders' Medicare for all plan we can finally have a system based on patient need, with a single standard of quality care for all, regardless of ability to pay, race, gender, age, or where you live. That’s a beautiful thing."


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Hillary Clinton, however, said during Sunday's Democratic debate that his proposal would threaten the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and would allow Republicans "an opening to come in and tear down everything we have achieved."

"To tear it up and start over again, pushing our country back into that kind of a contentious debate," she said, "I think is the wrong direction."

Clinton, for her part, proposes "defend[ing] the ACA against Republican efforts to repeal it."

According to CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter, however, "neither Clinton's nor Sanders' [plan] has much of a chance of being successful unless there are significant changes in the makeup of the Congress that would put Democrats in charge of both chambers again."

And the week before the last debate, as Clinton also took aim at Sanders' healthcare proposal, The Intercept reported that the former secretary of state, "from 2013 to 2015, made $2,847,000 from 13 paid speeches to the [healthcare] industry."

"This means," Zaid Jilani wrote, "that Clinton brought in almost as much in speech fees from the health care industry as she did from the banking industry. As a matter of perspective, recall that most Americans don’t earn $2.8 million over their lifetimes."

Potter said that's a fact that "should concern voters."

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