In the midst of the debate over health care – a national argument that never seems to subside – one school of thought popular with mostly liberal politicians such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a policy which is being called “Medicare for All.” America, argues Senator Sanders and other proponents, is ready for “single-payer” health care, and the Medicare program historically available only to those 65 and older (with rare exceptions) is a turn-key solution.
In a New York Times op-ed column recently, Senator Sanders laid out his argument in favor Medicare for All. He made two key assertions – that “the majority of the American people” wants universal coverage, and that Medicare for All would function very much like the single-payer government-run medical systems in Canada and Great Britain. As a follow up to the column by Senator Sanders, the New York Times published this article just a few days ago in which the newspaper sought to find out how true these statements actually are.
Regardless of how you feel personally concerning the political and economic virtues and drawbacks of a single-payer health care system, it’s helpful to know which way the debate is going and who is saying what. This seems to us to be especially true for those already on Medicare, since we think any major expansion of the program could affect which doctors accept the program and which ones don’t. Additionally, any move to lower the eligibility age for Medicare (or eliminate the age requirement altogether) could have a significant impact on the retirement plans of couples for whom one spouse is Medicare-eligible and the other is not. As the law now stands, it’s fairly common for the older wage-earning husband or wife to delay retirement until their younger spouse reaches 65, but that could conceivably change.
Is Medicare for all, as Senator Sanders asserts, highly popular with American voters? Here’s what the New York Times article had to say. “Mr. Sanders claimed that ‘the majority of the American people’ want Medicare for all, citing an April poll…in which 60 percent of Americans agreed that Medicare should be expanded to cover everyone.” However, says the article, that polling result doesn’t appear typical. “This appears to be the high end of support,” writes the Times. Other national surveys show support for the concept in the low to mid 50 percent range. Interestingly, asking respondents about “single-payer health care” generally polls more poorly that the idea of “Medicare for all.” Several national polls asking if Americans favor single-payer health care, with no mention of Medicare, show approval rates in the 30-40 percent range.
So with that in mind, how does the proposal of Senator Sanders compare with other systems already in place in nations like Canada and Great Britain? The fact is that the sheer number of different variables in the various national plans makes an “apples to apples” comparison difficult. For example, in Canada, provinces administer their own health care programs so some benefits vary by location (especially in health categories such as dental and vision care). In Britain the National Health Service (NHS) owns the hospitals and contracts with the doctors, a model that Senator Sanders does not envision for the U.S. But there are some comparisons that can be made, including one to which we can all relate: how long does a patient have to wait for emergency medical attention?
According to the New York Times, “One of the most common critiques of the British system revolves around long waiting times. In 2011, patients in N.H.S. emergency rooms in England waited a little over two hours on average from attendance to departure.” These waiting times in the U.K. are actually going up, now about 20 minutes longer this year. However, contrary to common perception, the median emergency wait time in American hospitals was actually comparable to Great Britain in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available). According to stats from the CDC, the average emergency room patient in the U.S. waited 30 minutes to see a doctor and about 90 minutes for treatment.
But there’s one statistic from Senator Sanders’ op-ed that’s tough to refute, and that’s the cost of health care in the U.S. compared with other industrialized nations. As the New York Times summarizes, “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the United States spent $9,890 per person on health care in 2015. That’s about twice as much as the four countries with universal health care systems that Mr. Sanders listed: Canada ($4,640), France ($4,600), Germany ($5,550) and Britain ($4,190).” We also spend far more on drugs than any of our international peers, partly because our government, under an odd stipulation in federal law, is legally barred from negotiating Medicare drug prices (although, the Times points out, Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration can and do obtain discounts). Common sense would suggest that this restriction on Medicare is overdue for change.
Here at AgingOptions we share this information with you because we feel you need to be well-informed about anything that affects the Medicare system, which insures over 55 million Americans. As you age, it’s virtually inevitable that Medicare will be central to your health care. We also want to remind you of the critical importance of planning for all aspects of your retirement, instead of moving into this potentially complex phase of life without forethought. Your medical plan is essential to a successful retirement, but it must work in concert with the housing choices you make. This has a direct bearing on your financial and legal planning, and on communication with your family, since no one wants to become a burden to those closest to them. Here’s the good news: an AgingOptions LifePlan blends all these facets of retirement into one seamless strategy, helping you enjoy the retirement you’ve always dreamed of.
Why not accept our invitation and learn more about LifePlanning? Come join us for a free, no-obligation LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich, where in just a few hours we’ll answer many of your questions and help you determine what the next steps ought to be. There are LifePlanning Seminars taking place throughout the area, so simply click here for details and online registration, or call us during the week for assistance. It will be our pleasure to meet you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you.
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)