By Patricia Downs Berger, M.D.
In the June 13 op-ed “A free market brings down health costs” Jeff Jacoby asked, “What is the best way to make sure that Americans with chronic medical conditions ... can afford the insurance they need?” Jacoby’s answer is the free market, a business model based on “supply and demand, competition, and flexible prices.” He seems to forget that medical care is not a commodity that we buy and sell, but a basic human necessity.
Universal access to affordable, high-quality medical care is what we all want for ourselves and our families, but it can only happen if we have a single-payer system that embodies this goal. Such a system means that there would be a single government entity that would pay health care bills instead of myriad private companies and government plans.
Everyone would have a government-issued medical card to use for medical care that would replace the for-profit health insurance industry coverage, and there would be no more premiums, deductibles, or co-insurance that act as barriers to seeking care.
Single payer would be publicly funded through the tax system and federal and state funds already committed to health care through programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Single payer is not a pie-in-the-sky theory. Variations have been working well in industrialized nations where health costs are half of what we spend in the United States and health outcomes are better.
Dr. Patricia Downs Berger co-chairs Mass-Care, a campaign for a single payer health care system for Massachusetts. She resides in Brookline.