The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people. Meanwhile, we spend about twice as much per capita on health care and, in a wide number of instances, our outcomes are not as good as others that spend far less.
It is time that we bring about a fundamental transformation of the American health-care system. It is time for us to end private, for-profit participation in delivering basic coverage. It is time for the United States to provide a Medicare-for-all, single payer health coverage program.
Under our dysfunctional system, 45,000 Americans a year die because they delay seeking care they cannot afford. We spent 17.6% of our GDP on health care in 2009, which is projected to go up to 20% by 2020, yet we still rank 26th among major, developed nations on life expectancy, and 31st on infant mortality. We must demand a better model of health coverage that emphasizes preventive and primary care for every single person without regard for their ability to pay.
It is certainly a step forward that the new health reform law is projected to cover 32 million additional Americans, out of the more than 50 million uninsured today. Yet projections suggest that roughly 23 million will still be without insurance in 2019, while health-care costs will continue to skyrocket.
Twenty-three million Americans still without health insurance after health reform is implemented? This is unacceptable. And that is why, this week, Representative Jim McDermott and I are announcing the re-introduction of the American Health Security Act, recognizing health care as a human right and providing every US citizen and permanent resident with health-care coverage and services through a state-administered, single payer program.
Let’s face it: until we put patients over profits, our system will not work for ordinary Americans.
It is incomprehensible that drug companies still get away with charging Americans twice as much, or more, than citizens of Canada or Europe for the exact same drugs manufactured by the exact same companies. It is an outrage that insurers still often hike premiums 20%, 40% and 60% a year on individual policy holders; and some insurers still spend 40 cents of every premium dollar on administration and profits while lavishing multimillion-dollar payouts on their CEOs.
It boggles the mind that approximately 30% of every health-care dollar spent in the United States goes to administrative costs, rather than to delivering care. We must do better. Taiwan, for example, spends only a little over 6% of GDP on health care, while achieving better health outcomes on some key indicators than we do; yet they spend a relative pittance on administrative costs.
I am very proud that my home state of Vermont is now taking big steps to lead the nation in health care by moving forward on a plan to establish a single payer health-care system that puts the interests of patients over chasing profits. The American Health Security Act would make sure every state does the same — taking profits out of the equation by implementing a single-payer system, but letting each state administer its own program, according to strict standards, in a way best suited to its needs.
The goal of real health-care reform must be high-quality, universal coverage in a cost-effective way. We must ensure, to as great a degree as possible, that the money we put into health coverage goes to the delivery of health care, not to paper-pushing, astronomical profits and lining CEOs’ pockets.
Bernie Sanders is the U.S. Senator (I) from Vermont, and the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate’s Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) committees.