By Jessica Bauer Walker
The U.S. health care system is sick. We spend twice as much as any other country on medical care and have the best technological advances in the world. Yet our health outcomes are the worst of any industrialized nation, consistently ranking 30th or worse on the World Health Organization index.
Many factors influence health. Research has shown that public health is supported in large part by investment in preventative care as well as the “social determinants of health” such as access to a good education, nutritious food and jobs that pay a living wage.
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, makes some good efforts at improving our health care system. Prohibition of denial of coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, expansion of Medicaid, raising the age limit for coverage for young adults on their parents’ plans, and investments in community-based health centers and Community Health Workers in under-served neighborhoods will all improve quality and access in health care.
But we need to go further. An estimated 23 million will still be uninsured by 2019. Many more will be left with inadequate coverage to meet their needs, vulnerable to the epidemic of medical debt, which is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States.
In America, we believe citizens have certain rights. We mandate children’s education through public schools, and provide legal representation to those accused of a crime who cannot afford to hire their own. How is it that we do not believe health to be a human right, but instead treat it as a commodity? Health care is bought and sold, controlled by private interests such as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and increasingly by for-profit hospitals and health care providers.
There is a cheaper, better, more humane way. Single-payer health insurance would create one public agency to organize health financing. Delivery of care would remain largely private but, like Medicare, would cover individuals for all medically necessary services.
Such a system, utilized by many countries healthier than ours, gives patients more choice over their provider and services, and doctors more autonomy to focus on care. Streamlining payment through one nonprofit payer would free up one-third of every health care dollar currently spent on advertising and paperwork, saving more than $400 billion per year – enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.
Buffalo is undergoing revitalization, and part of it needs to be policy changes necessary to create the healthy people who will be the backbone of any robust society and economy. With an eye to the future, let us ask our local, state and national leaders to ensure health and health care as a human right.
Jessica Bauer Walker is executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo.