Medicare for All: Health Care is a Human Right

Americans overwhelmingly agree: Medicare works. After decades of living with for-profit health insurance or, worse, no health insurance at all, your 65th birthday is eye-opening. That birthday brings Medicare. Once you enroll in Medicare, you generally have no claims to fill out and no insurance companies to contact. Doctors’ offices routinely do the paperwork. It is all so simple.

The vision of Medicare for All offers that simplicity for everyone and much more. It means better protection at a lower cost for everyone, including those currently covered by Medicare.

Today, private for-profit insurers restrict access to doctors and hospitals in their networks. They force you to pay exorbitant fees for going out of network, even if you have no choice because their network is inadequate or their in-network hospital is staffed by out-of-network doctors. Private insurers have no motive to do otherwise since their mission is to squeeze as much money from the American people as possible, to pad the already bulging pockets of their top executives and their Wall Street billionaire investors. All of that is gone with Medicare for All.

Medicare for All means going to the doctors of your choice, without first checking to see if they are in your insurance network. It would create one big network of virtually every doctor and hospital in America. The result? Access to care with the provider of your choice, anywhere you happen to be, with no headaches dealing with insurance companies.

In addition to much greater choice of doctors and hospitals, the vision of Medicare for All is that all services are covered automatically, including dental, hearing, and vision care. (These services should be covered under today’s Medicare, but they are not.) Medicare for All means being able to take the medications your doctor prescribes, without a thought about the cost. No longer would anyone be forced to cut their prescription drugs in half or skip a day here and there to reduce the expense of refills.

The vision of Medicare for All is a world of no premiums, no deductibles, no copays, no pre-existing conditions, no annual or lifetime limits. The vision is for automatic comprehensive coverage for everyone in the United States, starting at birth (actually, prenatally, because your mother is covered) and throughout your entire life, paid for with tax dollars instead of premiums, deductibles and copays. It means paying considerably less for our health care than we currently pay out of our individual pockets. It means our nation as a whole spending trillions of dollars less for better health care outcomes.

Medicare for All recognizes that health care is a basic right for all Americans. It is the embodiment of the words enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. In contrast to eighteenth-century Britain with its classes and privileges, our founders recognized that all of us are created equal, that each of us is endowed with inalienable rights. These, our founders declared, include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These fundamental, inalienable rights are impossible without good health. A lifetime of good health is impossible without guaranteed, high-quality health care.

Whether you are a child worried about getting a shot or an adult worried you may have a serious illness, going to the doctor is stressful. That stress is unavoidable, but, in the United States, there is the added stress of worrying about whether you can pay for the treatment. Medicare for All means receiving the health care you need, when you need it, from the people you trust, free from the stress and anxiety of how you will afford it.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. As the wealthiest country in the world at the wealthiest moment in our history, we can absolutely afford guaranteed, high-quality health care for every one of us. Indeed, Medicare for All will free up resources for other pressing domestic needs since it will be far more efficient than our current patchwork health care system. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has calculated that if the United States had the same per capita health care costs as any other industrialized country, our nation would project long-term federal budget surpluses for the foreseeable future.

Other industrialized countries, far less wealthy than the United States, provide high-quality health care to all their residents with better health outcomes at a fraction of the cost. It is past time that we do the same by improving Medicare and expanding it to cover all of us.

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Nancy Altman

Nancy J. Altman has a forty year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is President of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition and campaign.