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Medical students protest private health insurance company greed and call for a single-payer health care system at a rally outside the offices of Blue Cross Blue Shield Illinois in Chicago last year. On October 1, students from at least 30 medical schools will hold teach-ins, rallies and candlelight vigils to remember the millions of people in the U.S. who remain uninsured, underinsured and underserved by our current system, and will urge the swift adoption of an improved version of  Medicare for All.  (Photo: Mark Almberg/PNHP)

Future Doctors Rising Up for 'Medicare for All'

Why med students are taking action for single-payer on October 1

Vanessa Van Doren

For most of us in medicine, helping people live healthy, happy lives is at the heart of why we chose this career. We expound upon this in application essays, talk about it during interviews, and start medical school with this “calling” fresh in our minds.

Very early in our medical careers – on the wards and in the classroom – we learn that inequality, preventable illness, and death are an inherent part of our current private, for-profit-oriented health insurance system.

We see patients receive preventable amputations due to untreated diabetes. We see people permanently disabled by stroke because they were unable to afford their medications. College funds emptied out to pay for $100,000-a-year cancer treatments. Families bankrupted and lives destroyed.

We learn that, although the United States is one of the wealthiest countries on earth, we are also the only developed nation that does not provide health care to all of its citizens. We learn that we spend over 17 percent of our GDP – more than any country in the world – on this non-universal coverage. We learn that medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States.

We learn that, despite its title, the Affordable Care Act is not truly affordable. Even after the ACA, tens of millions of people are still unable to afford insurance, and tens of thousands die every year because of uninsurance. Millions more who have insurance are under-insured, risking financial distress in the event of serious illness and finding that their health policy’s high deductibles and co-pays prevent them from using it.

All of which leads most reasonable medical students to ask, what can we do about this?

Just as the problem is clearly mapped out, so is the solution.

There is an excellent model for universal health care – one that covers everyone, leads to better health outcomes, and costs taxpayers far less than the current U.S. system – implemented in dozens of countries around the world, including our next door neighbor, Canada. This model is called single-payer health care.

Implementing a single-payer system in the United States would be far from revolutionary. As part of its fragmented, multi-payer system, the U.S. also has a single-payer-like subdivision, which we call Medicare. It is efficient, cost-effective, and has stood the test of time, providing health insurance to all American seniors for the past 50 years.

By improving and expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, we can use this existing infrastructure to achieve universal coverage, better health outcomes, and better physician working conditions.

Medical students across the country have already joined the fight for universal, single-payer health care. Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) currently has 650 members in over 40 chapters across the country. On Thursday, October 1st, SNaHP will lead over 30 universities across the country in a Medicare-for-All National Day of Action.

SNaHP will join together with members of the American Medical Student Association, WhiteCoats4BlackLives, the Latino Medical Student Association, Universities Allied for Essential Medicine, and the Pre-Health Dreamers in holding teach-ins, rallies, and candlelight vigils to remember the millions of people in our country who remain uninsured, underinsured and underserved by our current health care system.

We will also underscore the need for a more fundamental health reform – a nonprofit, publicly financed, single-payer health system.

We urge all our classmates and friends to join us in this fight. As future medical professionals, and as compassionate people who plan to devote our lives to caring for others, we cannot acquiesce to this unjust, senseless loss of life.

We have to do something about it.

Please join us for the #TenOne Medicare-for-All National Day of Action and help advocate for a more just system in which physicians can uphold our profession with integrity, compassion, and dignity.

Please join the #TenOne Facebook page to commit to this movement and get more information about your local actions.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Vanessa Van Doren

Vanessa Van Doren is a second-year medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and is the co-founder of the Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) chapter at her institution.

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