OWATONNA — Imagine a health insurance system without premiums, deductibles and co-pays.
That’s a system, commonly referred to as a single-payer health care, that Dr. David Dvorak, an emergency room physician at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, and Gary Eagen, a retired teacher and member of Health Care for All Minnesotans, spoke about — and advocated for — Saturday afternoon during a health care forum sponsored by Steele County Indivisible at the Owatonna Public Library.
“I’m a member of Physicians for a National Health program, an organization of about 30,000 physicians nationally who support single-payer as the most efficient and equitable way to get to universal health care,” Dvorak said. “We believe that the most wealthy nation on the planet should figure out how to provide quality health care to all its citizens, and again, we believe single-payer is the best way forward.”
Dvorak, who spoke first, outlined the issues with the country’s current health care system, which he said primarily, benefits multibillion-dollar health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, before explaining what single-payer health care is.
Some of the issues he referenced with news articles, studies and graphs were the increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses and growth in high-deductible insurance plans as well as the rising cost of health insurance and the reduced benefits within each plan — a trend, Dvorak showed, that started before the Affordable Care Act.
“Obamacare kind of became the whipping boy for everything wrong with the health care system,” he said. “This is a problem that is baked into our system. This isn’t Obamacare. This is our system.”
Dvorak said even individuals with health insurance don’t seek care when they need it because they can’t afford it, which can in many cases worsens the diagnosis.
“We hear people say we need to have skin in the game. You know, you can’t give people too good of insurance because then they’ll just run to the doctor for every sore throat and every sniffle,” he said. “I think the problem is not only do we have skin in the game, but now we have our hearts and lungs and brains in the game because this is what’s at risk when we don’t get care when we need it. That’s the consequence of underinsurance.”
Dvorak said the increased cost in health care is attributed to the administrative expenses of the insurance companies, like marketing and advertising and executive salaries.
But according to Dvorak and Eagen, there’s a solution.
Under the Affordable Care Act, states can apply for a state innovation waiver to pursue “innovative strategies for providing their residents with access to high quality, affordable health insurance while retain the basic protections” of the law starting Jan. 1, 2017.
“That’s exciting news for single-payer supporters,” Dvorak said.
Single-payer health care is a “unified system” that covers all citizens and is funded publicly, while the serves are delivered privately.
“Just like we pay for our police protection, our fire protection, our military, you could say health care is another kind of protection, and we all pay into it based on our ability to pay,” Dvorak said, adding the strengths are the coverage, unified risk pool and it’s a simple and efficient system that can be paid for by slashing administrative costs and other expenses resulting from health insurance companies.
For patients, he said, it wouldn’t require them to have a job in order to have insurance, it would allow them to choose their provider and remove financial barriers to care.
Eagen said Minnesota Sen. John Marty co-authored a bill in February that received bipartisan support from more than 30 legislators regarding the Minnesota Health Plan, which is a state version of single-payer health care that covers all medical-related expenditures, like dental, medical, prescription and mental illness. He also spoke about Marty’s book, “Healing Health Care.”
A study from The Lewin Group, a health care policy research and management consulting firm, showed Minnesota could save $4 billion by switching to single-payer health care while covering all residents, Dvorak presented.
Dvorak said the “big downside” about single-payer health care is the job loss of “many, many good people who work for insurance companies,” but they could be retrained in the new system and there’d still be a savings.
“Some won’t have a job for a bit, but they’ll have health insurance,” Eagen said.
Some of the 20 people who attended the event and expressed vocal support for the system, asked what’s holding up action to switch to single-payer health care, like other developed nations.
Dvorak said it’s the “losers in the single-payer system,” which are the multibillion insurance and pharmaceutical industries who put money into the political system.
Paul Swenson of Owatonna, who’s been in the insurance industry for nearly 40 years, said, “I’m with you guys,” before expanding on his frustrations with the health insurance industry and explain what needs to be done to move it forward, like getting more people educated on the topic without sensationalizing and misinforming them to garner support.
“We have to stop the divisiveness. We do,” he said.
After Dvorak and Eagen’s presentation, the film, “Fix It Health Care at the Tipping Point.”
Steele County Indivisible is a local group committed to the progressive movement started by the nationwide Women’s March in January and it encourages grassroots activism at the local, regional and national levels.
“Everyone is welcome. We speak in many voices and we follow the principles of the Women’s March Minnesota in pursuit of truth, equity and justice,” said Dr. Beth Gilthvedt, a local optometrist and member of Steele County Indivisible.
The group, she said, plans on participating in the March for Science on April 22 at the state capitol.