By Marilyn M. Singleton, MD, JD
Buying and selling is in the news lately with President “at some point you’ve made enough money,” “climate change is urgent and growing” Obama’s well-publicized imminent purchase of a 7,000 square foot, $14.85 million estate in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, the playground of the rich and famous, guaranteed to survive the rising seas. Our current politicians are also on the hunt for buyers.
Sales Pitch Number One: A medical care crisis is afoot and only the government can save you. Yes, there is a crisis of rising prices and premiums after the government started meddling in the medical care market. Once health insurance became popular, by 1963 906 insurance companies wrote health and accident insurance, with 42 offering exclusively health insurance. Now we have five companies that have cornered the health insurance market. Additionally, politically powerful hospitals continue to merge and gobble up physicians’ practices leading to up to 70 percent higher prices in geographic areas with minimal competition.
Premiums and out-of-pocket costs steeply rose after the passage of the Affordable Care Act and show no sign of going back down. In 2018, according to eHealth, the average cost of health insurance premiums was $440 for individuals and $1,168 for families – almost double the cost in 2014. The deductibles (the amount of money that you have to pay out-of-pocket before health insurance starts paying for your covered benefits) similarly rose to $4,328 for individuals and $8,352 for families.
Sales Pitch Number Two: The government-to-the rescue plan is fair and free. Now that we have had debates and the Iowa State Fair, we’ve heard enough to know that Medicare-for-All is neither free nor fair. There is a good political reason the House and Senate Medicare-for-All bills fail to provide a financing mechanism. We would have a collective national heart attack after seeing the price tag.
In 2016, the federal government spent more than $1.2 trillion on Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Total national health expenditures by all government levels and private entities were $3.3 trillion. A 2018 Mercatus Center analysis concluded that Medicare-for-All conservatively would add $32.6 to $38.8 trillion to federal expenditures during its first 10 years. The government predicts that in 2026 the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust fund will be depleted and total national health expenditures will be $5.7 trillion. The federal government collected about $100 billion in Medicare premiums and a total of $3.32 trillion in taxes last year. Given the projected expenditures and no cost-sharing or premiums, new ways to perform mass wallet biopsies on the populace will emerge. The simplest tool, as Senator Sanders has suggested, is to raise payroll taxes on everyone.
Moreover, with the elimination of private insurance, when the money runs out and care is rationed, only the wealthy will be able to pay for care outside of the government system. Is that fair?
Upping the ante, Senator Sanders wants to pay off some Americans’ current medical debt by taxing Americans with no medical debt. Under his proposal, only people unable to pay their medical debt would be granted relief. Those keeping up with their payments would have to continue to pay. What does “unable” mean? If they are living below the poverty level, they have Medicaid. Is it the working poor? Or is it people who failed to prioritize their medical bills over Starbucks and take-out food? Hardly fair.
Sales Pitch Number Three: If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, Politifact’s lie of the year. Essentially, the promise was that government would not interfere in the practice of medicine. But both state and federal government wants the final say-so in our medical care. For example, the California assembly passed a bill requiring the state Department of Public Health to review and potentially reject medical vaccine exemptions written by doctors who have granted five or more in a year. No exceptions for doctors specializing in neurological or immunological diseases. In order for Medicare to pay claims, physicians will be required to complete a computerized algorithm and certify that they have done so before ordering certain imaging like MRIs and CT scans. A computer will now determine whether the order is “appropriate.” Medical care by government robots will supplant individualized care – the heart of the patient-physician relationship. Who cares if the patient has a missed or delayed diagnosis?
As the government tries to trap physicians and patients in its restrictive bubble, independent physicians are pursuing avenues for increased choice in medical care and insurance products. Above all, we will never put the needs of the state ahead of the needs of the patient.
Bio: Dr. Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist. She is a Past President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). She graduated from Stanford and earned her MD at UCSF Medical School. Dr. Singleton completed 2 years of Surgery residency at UCSF, then her Anesthesia residency at Harvard’s Beth Israel Hospital. While still working in the operating room, she attended UC Berkeley Law School, focusing on constitutional law and administrative law. She interned at the National Health Law Project and practiced insurance and health law. She teaches classes in the recognition of elder abuse and constitutional law for non-lawyers.