In mid-May, in an effort to reach consensus, President Obama secured a deal with the health insurance companies to trim 1.5 percent of their costs each year for 10 years, saving a total of $2 trillion, which would be reprogrammed into health care. Just two days after the announcement at the White House, the insurance companies reneged on the deal that was designed to protect and increase their revenue at least 35 percent.
The insurance companies reneged on the deal because they refuse any restraint on increasing premiums, co-pays and deductibles—core to their profits. No wonder a recent USA Today poll found that only 4 percent of Americans trust insurance companies. This is within the margin of error, which means it is possible that no one trusts insurance companies.
Then why does Congress trust the insurance companies? Recently, HR 3200 “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act,” a 1,000-page bill, was delivered to members. The title of the bill raises a question: “Affordable” for whom?
Of $2.4 trillion spent annually for health care in America, fully $800 billion goes for the activities of the for-profit insurer-based system. This means one of every three health care dollars is siphoned off for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing and the cost of paperwork (which can be anywhere between 15 and 35 percent in the private sector as compared to Medicare, the single payer plan which has only 3 percent administrative costs).
Fifty million Americans are uninsured and another 50 million are underinsured while for-profit insurance companies divert precious health care dollars to non-health care purposes. Eliminate the for-profit health care system and its extraordinary overhead, put the money into health care and everyone will be covered, everyone will be able to afford health care.
On Monday, three committees will begin marking up and amending HR 3200. In this, one of the most momentous public policy debates in the past 70 years, single payer—the only viable “public option,” the one that makes sound business sense, controls costs and covers everyone—was taken off the table.
In contrast to HR 3200, HR 676 calls for a universal single-payer health care system in the United States, Medicare for All. It has over 85 co-sponsors in Congress with the support of millions of Americans and countless physicians and nurses. How does HR 676 control costs and cover everyone? It cuts out the for-profit middle men and delivers care directly to consumers, while Medicare acts as the single payer of bills. It also recognizes that under the current system, for-profit insurance companies make money by not providing health care.
This week is the time to break the hold that the insurance companies have on our political process. Tell Congress to stand up to the insurance companies. Ask members to sign on to the only real public option, HR 676, a single-payer health care system.
Hundreds of local labor unions, thousands of physicians and millions of Americans are standing behind us. With a draft of HR 3200 now circulating, it is up to each and every one of us to organize and rally for the cause of single-payer health care. Change the debate. Now is the time.