The latest U.S. Census Bureau data clearly illustrates that the need for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health program has never been more urgent, the advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) said Tuesday.
The census found that 29 million people went uninsured last year, including 3.7 million children, and that deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs have continued to rise well after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into law in 2010.
The data "starkly illustrates how our inefficient, private-insurance-based system of financing care is fundamentally incapable of providing universal coverage," said pediatrician and PNHP president Dr. Robert Zarr. "The fact that 29 million people remain uninsured—a figure that won't change much over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office—is totally unacceptable to me as a physician."
"Studies show that lack of insurance is linked to a higher mortality rate. Being uninsured is lethal, and currently leads to tens of thousands of deaths annually," Zarr said, citing statistics from the Congressional Budget Office (pdf) and recent PNHP research (pdf) into rates of uninsurance and mortality.
"That tens of millions of people will remain uninsured under our current arrangements is perhaps the most compelling argument for why our nation needs to swiftly adopt a single-payer system."
—Dr. Robert Zarr, PNHP
Zarr noted that the ACA did help lower rates of uninsured people by about 41 percent, which he said "could only be welcomed, since research shows that having some kind of health coverage is better than none."
However, the decrease in those rates slowed dramatically last year, with a change of only 1.3 percentage points since 2014.
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And, Zarr added, the bureau neglected to mention that the quality of healthcare in the U.S. has also decreased, with rising copay and deductible costs and narrow provider networks—an effect known as "hollowing out."
"That tens of millions of people will remain uninsured under our current arrangements is perhaps the most compelling argument for why our nation needs to swiftly adopt a single-payer system, where everyone, without exception, would be covered and get first-dollar coverage for all medically necessary care," he said.
"Too many people have skimpy policies that deter them from seeking care when they should get treatment, and that leave them unprotected against financial hardship when illness or injury strikes. And their number is growing."
Meanwhile, the recent announcement by health insurance giant Aetna that it would pull out of ACA exchanges in 11 states—and similar actions by United Health Group and other private insurers—shows the corporations cannot be trusted to protect their patients' financial security, Zarr added.
"Our patients and our economy can't wait any longer for an effective remedy to our healthcare woes," he said. "The stakes are too high. We need to swiftly move beyond the ACA to a single-payer national health insurance program."