July 26, 2007
Single payer health universal insurance coming to Ohio?
(For previous posts on the topic of health care, see here.)
Efforts are underway to try get a universal, single payer health care system in Ohio. The group behind it is the Single-Payer Action Network Ohio (SPAN Ohio), which is supporting legislation instituting such a plan. Their website provides more information about their initiatives and meetings.
The main points of the legislation can be seen here but here are the highlights:
- Patients get free choice of health care providers and hospitals.
- When you go to your own personal physician for visits, there are NO premiums, NO co-payments, NO deductibles, NO one excluded. You pay nothing.
- When you get your prescription filled by your pharmacist, there are NO premiums, NO co-payments, NO deductibles, NO one excluded. You pay nothing.
- If you need hospitalization, there are NO premiums, NO co-payments, NO deductibles, NO one excluded. You pay nothing.
In each case, the health care provider is reimbursed from the Ohio Health Care Fund.
So how does the Ohio Health Care Fund get its money? Under the proposed plan, people who earn less than the Social Security tax cap (currently $97,500 per year) pay no additional taxes. The money to fund the system comes from a variety of sources: up to 3.85% payroll tax paid by employers; up to 3% gross receipts tax paid by businesses; 6.2% tax on individual compensation in excess of the Social Security tax cap; 5% surtax on adjusted gross income over $200,000; funds from other government sources. Remember that currently employers that provide private health insurance have to pay for it. That money can now be directed to the Ohio Health Care Fund instead.
An Ohio health care agency runs the program and its governing board consists of the state director of health and fourteen other members, two from each of the seven regions that make up the state. The two members are elected for two-year terms by a regional health advisory committee, which in turn is elected by a meeting convened of the county and city health commissioners of each region.
Since there are many misconceptions (often deliberately perpetrated by the health care industry and its allies in the media) about what a single payer system involves, here is a handy document that compares the myths with the realities.
One of the big distortions that will be perpetrated by the health insurance and drug industries and politicians is to treat 'universal' and 'single-payer' as if they are synonymous terms. They are not and people should be vigilant when that sleight-of-hand is attempted. 'Universal' refers to the fact that every person should be covered, with no exceptions. 'Single payer' refers to the mechanism by which the health care system is financed and health care providers reimbursed.
It is not difficult to provide 'universal' private health insurance coverage, if that coverage is bad. All one needs to do to achieve that is to compel everyone to purchase some kind of health insurance, like the way people are compelled to buy auto insurance in order to drive, and some states have gone that route. But all that achieves is people or their employers being forced to purchase high-deductible, low-treatment coverage. Such policies will not result in better and more accessible treatment for more people or reduce the frustrating bureaucracy that we all encounter now. In fact, it will be a profit windfall for the private insurance companies as they get even more people into their nets. Such 'universal' programs would not be an improvement on the current system, though it will be touted as such by the health-care industry and their apologists.
'Single-payer' means something different, that there should be just one single entity, preferably run by the government or at the very least a non-profit publicly accountable board, that collects the money and spends it on the health care system. The single payer plan calls for the complete elimination of profit-driven private health insurance companies from the health care system, and has to be an essential component of any meaningful health care reform. As Sicko pointed out, the introduction of profit-making bodies between the patient and the doctor is the single feature that has resulted in the health care system in the US being so inferior to its peer countries.
Candidates should not be able to evade the issue by saying they support universal health-care. The question that should be asked is whether they support single-payer universal health care. Of all the presidential candidates in both parties, only Dennis Kucinich is calling for such a universal single-payer system, although many of the other Democratic candidates have signed onto the vague 'universal' health care part.
A petition has also been started by SPAN Ohio to gather signatures to put the legislation onto the statewide ballot. This petition contains the officially approved summary of what the legislation contains, as well as the full text of the bill. It is a parallel track strategy to the bills in the state legislature to get the same results.
I am collecting petition signatures so if anyone wants to sign it, or collect signatures as well, please contact me or SPAN Ohio. My petition form is limited to those who reside in Cuyahoga County.
The Cleveland branch of SPAN Ohio meets at 7:00pm on the first Monday of each month at the ACLU building, 4506 Chester Avenue. Other branch locations and meeting times can be found on their website.
POST SCRIPT: Handy guide to candidates
With so many people running for president, it is hard to compare their stands on the various issues. One enterprising website has done us all a favor by preparing a table that gives capsule summaries of their views. Of course, you will need to look elsewhere for more details and nuances.