COMMENTARY: Making the case for a single payer system

A few weeks ago, the Dayton Chamber of Commerce’s Chris Kershner wrote in this newspaper a guest opinion column disparaging the idea of a single-payer health care system for the United States. Here a few points that Mr. Kershner failed to mention:

First, Medicare is single-payer, government-run medical system. I have never met a Medicare recipient who would willingly abandon this program as currently constructed. In fact, advocates for single-payer frequently promote their plan as Medicare for all.

Second, close to $17 of every $100 spent in America’s economy is spent on health care. Other developed countries spend on average $12 of each $100 for similar services. Despite this additional spending, American’s health care outcomes rank well below those of other developed countries by any objective measure.

Whether health care spending is private (premiums and copays) or public (Medicare or Medicaid), this difference is not without a cost to each American. If our medical spending was more in line with other developed countries, this savings would flow to the business owner’s bottom line and the consumer’s pocket book. In American’s $22 trillion economy, this would translate into an additional $1.2 trillion dollars going to business or consumer spending. Note, the recent federal tax cut is estimated to put only $150 billion a year in taxpayers’ pockets — certainly a modest amount by comparison.

Third, yes, Americans like their employer-based health care system — that is, until in their 50s they lose their job and are set adrift at a time in their life when health care needs become more pressing. I suspect that many of us have seen this unfortunate story repeated over and over again in our community.

Fourth, Mr. Kershner contends that “most business owners are happy and proud to provide (health care) coverage for their employees.” This, however, does not mean business owners prefer this arrangement. I suspect that if a universal health care system was established, business owners would be quite content competing for workers based on pay and work culture, and focusing more of their attention on the quality of their product or service in the marketplace.

Finally, what about our “poor” neighbors to the north? I have traveled in Canadian extensively. Over the past 25 years, I have made a point of asking Canadians what they thought of their health care system and have never met a Canadian who disliked it. In fact, some years ago the Canadian Broadcast Corporation asked Canadian listeners to identify the Canadians they most admired. Alexander Graham Bell and Wayne Gretzky were second and third on the list. First place was occupied by Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan politician who led the fight in Canada for a universal health care system. This is hardly a result one would expect from people who disliked their health care system.

A few years ago, I personally encountered the Canadian health care system. I sustained an injury while vacationing in rural Canadian. I was treated at a local clinic, and as I left, I complimented the doctor on the treatment I had received. The doctor responded, “Thank you. We do two things well in Canada. Health care and hockey.” And I don’t think he was joking.

Mack Van Allen lives in Centerville.

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