Big problems demand bold solutions. The Labor Campaign for Single Payer is calling on Congress to expand Medicare coverage to everyone in America for the duration of the crisis.
All Medicare deductibles and Part B premiums should be waived for the duration and Medicare should be empowered to negotiate all drug and medical equipment prices, to put a lid on profiteering.
Additional funds should also be allocated to the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service to allow these hard-pressed single-payer systems to adequately serve their constituencies.
Such a proposal should be a centerpiece of the next round of emergency relief legislation. It would immediately free health care providers from the onerous administrative responsibilities of dealing with private insurance, while assuring them that they would be paid for delivering needed care.
Sick people would be more likely to seek early treatment if they knew there were no financial barriers. By cutting out the insurance company middleman and regulating price gouging, we could save 10 to 15 percent of total health care costs while making sure the benefits flow to those who need them.
Emergency expansion of Medicare, to Medicare for All, would also be a huge economic stimulus. The elimination of co-insurance, deductibles, co-pays, and out-of-pockets would be an economic shot in the arm for all working families, both employed and unemployed.
Employers would be temporarily relieved of the obligation to pay for private insurance, creating an incentive to keep workers on the payroll rather than lay them off. Hard-pressed state and local governments would also be freed from the burden of employee and retiree health care costs.
Since the federal government already pays 60 percent of all health care costs through Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Tri-Care, federal employee health benefits, and other programs, the costs of such an emergency expansion are manageable.
Even assuming a huge increase in demand over 2019 levels, the additional federal obligation would be about $150 billion for each month the crisis continues. If the crisis lasted for a full year, new federal expenditures would still be less than the $2+ trillion committed under the March 27 CARES Act with all its corporate bailouts, or the $2.3 trillion that the Federal Reserve announced it would pump into the economy to stabilize the bond market and buy corporate debt.
As the crisis abates, the nation should debate what kind of health care system we should transition into to permanently meet the needs of everyone in America.
It is pretty clear who would win that debate. Not a single country in the world has ever voluntarily chosen to exchange a health care system that treats health care as a public good for one that treats it as a commodity delivered through a private insurance system linked to having a job.
During the transition, we could phase in longer-term financing mechanisms for Medicare for All, such as an employer-paid payroll tax and additional income and wealth taxes on the top 5 percent.
Ex-mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, speaking for neoliberals everywhere, famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Well, this is our time.
Working people are the heroes who are tending the sick, keeping the wheels turning, and making sure we have the necessities to keep everyone safe in their homes. We are paying with our lives because our dysfunctional health care system is unable to deliver the care we need.
When this is all over, we must not rest until health care is guaranteed to everyone in America through expanded and improved Medicare for All.