By Jessica Bauer Walker
Recently, hearings were held in Buffalo on the New York Health act, legislation that would provide universal, equitable health insurance for all New Yorkers. Physicians, medical students, nurses, community health workers, leaders from labor and community-based organizations and patients came out to testify.
Their perspectives from the front lines of health care and public health reflected a health care system that is badly broken, treating health as a commodity that is bought and sold, creating large profits for insurance companies while getting health outcomes that are the worst of any industrialized country.
The Affordable Care Act has made some good efforts at improving our health care system by modifying barriers based on income, age and pre-existing conditions while providing financial assistance and tax credits. But it does not tackle the underlying problems of the current health insurance system and the patchwork of companies and private interests that control it.
Organizations such as the Institute of Medicine and Commonwealth Fund say that the U.S. health care system maintains an extremely poor return on investment, despite having the best medical technology in the world and spending double the resources on health care as anyone else. Health care costs are projected to increase by 6 percent annually, 30 million people will remain uninsured by 2023 and many more will have coverage that is not adequate for their needs.
New York could save billions per year with a universal single-payer health care system. One agency would act as the administrator. It would provide preventive and primary care, emergency and hospital care, vision, dental and prescription coverage, mental health and substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation. Despite common assertions that single-payer systems ration care and are inferior to our system, evidence shows that other countries have vastly superior population health outcomes, while spending much less than we do.
New York has the potential to be a leader in the nation by implementing a universal health care system that makes economic sense and is in the spirit of health care as a human right.
Jessica Bauer Walker is executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo.