Guest Commentaries

Guest Commentary: We need Medicare For All

Strengthening the ACA is not enough
June 29, 2022 at 4:45 a.m.

By Jason Call

More than 330,000 lives lost in the U.S. during the pandemic could have been prevented — if we had universal health care.

That stunning revelation, from a study conducted by the National Academy of Science and published in Scientific American, also revealed that a single-payer health care system would have saved at least $105.6 billion in pandemic costs alone. In fact, universal health care would save as much as $438 billion annually in a non-pandemic year.

When I see these numbers, it makes me furious. So many lives taken by corporate greed. So many families driven to bankruptcy by medical bills. All to serve the profits of a handful of giant multinational corporations.

I know this firsthand because I lost my mother to the greed of the insurance industry.

My mother had gone in for a routine, but urgent, operation. On the day she was due to be discharged, she knew something was wrong and pleaded for another night of observation. But the insurance company would only pay for a single night in the hospital, so her doctor had no choice. The resulting complications ended up taking her life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are 31.2 million people in the United States who have no health insurance. According to the Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s Office, 430,000 of those people live in our state.

Just as a quick comparison, the number of people with no health insurance in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Australia, Canada, Israel … even Russia and China … is zero.

The United States is, in fact, the only nation in the developed world that does not guarantee universal health care coverage, and for most countries that guarantee universal coverage, it is free as a right of citizenship or residence. Most of the roughly 30 countries that don’t guarantee health care are in Africa, and include the poorest countries in the world like Somalia and Sudan, and other non-African countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Haiti; countries whose governments are war-torn and unstable.

The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and there is no valid reason we can’t guarantee health care for all.

Last February, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that showed a single-payer (government insurance) program like Medicare For All can provide higher payments to providers than current Medicare while saving money through preventive care and eliminating unnecessary middlemen.

We can ensure everyone has health care that includes coverages that are often left out of private health plans, such as dental, hearing, vision, long-term care and mental health care. A federal single-payer program will also save states money, as Medicaid — a program that states contribute to — would be replaced with a better system that covers everyone.

What we have as a health care system now is unacceptable and immoral. When, in the 2008 presidential race, Sarah Palin spoke of government insurance as "death panels," this was the first Big Lie. You and I know that private health insurance companies are the real death panels. They decide who goes into medical bankruptcy, and who dies because they won’t authorize care — just like they did to my mom. 

While the Affordable Care Act was an improvement on health care in some areas, the fact remains that no other developed country has this ridiculous tangle of private insurance networks, requiring untold billing labor hours and untold stress for people with insurance wondering if doctor-recommended tests, procedures, therapies and medications are going to be covered.

Ask anyone who works in medical billing about the nightmare of dealing with insurance companies who dedicate entire departments to deny claims. It hurts providers — the doctors, nurses, specialists and therapists that provide care. And of course, it hurts the people who need health care — which is all of us —  and can’t afford to be hit with a surprise bill of thousands of dollars.

Even though we must oppose Direct Contracting Entities and the new goal of some to fully privatize Medicare and Medicaid through ACO Reach, it’s time we face facts: private, for-profit insurance is, at its core, an inherently failed model for health care delivery.

Its purpose is not to deliver health care, it is to make money for CEOs and shareholders. It is an exclusionary product. It wants to keep the good risks and exclude the bad risks. The bad risks are people who are sick and need medical care — your friends, your family, maybe even you.

The fiscal case for universal health care is indisputable. But this is more important than money to me.

I believe health care is a human right. I’ve been fighting for single-payer for more than a decade, and I’m not going to stop fighting until we get it.

It saves us money. It leaves no one behind. And most importantly, it is the right and moral thing to do.


Jason Call is a Marysville Democrat who is a candidate for the Second District seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Everett.

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