I’ve been a medical student for about six months now. (The take-home: human bodies are intricate — human beings even more so.) I’m humbled by the weight of the responsibilities ahead of me. I study seriously because I have a duty to my future patients — to give them the best care that I can.
I would betray that duty, even now, by ignoring the inescapable reality: Private insurance in America is wasteful, predatory, and unsustainable. Every day that we allow it to continue, we condemn more people to suffer.
Their suffering is not necessary. It exists under an unfeeling, corporate superstructure that is driven solely by profiteering. Worse, that suffering has become an acceptable economic byproduct — like chemical runoff or car exhaust.
There are many different kinds of suffering and they are by no means exclusive to the uninsured. Please, take your pick: Sky-high premiums? Byzantine private bureaucracy? How about $1,000+ ambulance fees? Or maybe the sudden fear of finding out that an “in-network” provider was, in fact, “out-of-network,” and that you’re (“We’re sorry to inform you…”) on the hook for everything you thought was covered?
Among major nations, it’s striking that in the U.S. you will you find cases of parents who kill themselves to avoid leaving behind the burden of medical debt. (The U.S. today is the wealthiest country in recorded history.)
If we are going to build a more just world in my lifetime, one of the foundations of that world must be a single-payer healthcare system: Medicare for All.
Medicare for All envisions a world where providers simply provide and are quickly and reliably reimbursed. The system is simple: you replace the inflated private taxes of insurance premiums, deductibles, and all other ever-ballooning out-of-pocket costs with a (smaller) bump in public tax.
After that, you go to whatever hospital and doctor you please, and, at the end of the visit, you’re covered. It’s done. If you’re a human being and you show up at the door, you’re treated for what you have and then you can go home.
Neither doctors nor patients would have to run the intimate details of their personal care by an untrained private bureaucrat ever again.
Nearly all Americans would save money as a result. Since insurance companies want to make a profit, they’re always going to charge you more than they need to. Dozens of studies find that switching to a Medicare for All system would save money — on administrative bloat, on corporate greed, and as a result of better health outcomes.
Imagine never having to worry about whether a surgery would be covered or not. Imagine never having to worry about where the money for new contact lenses or hearing aids would come from. (They’re covered too!)
Imagine the freedom of a system in which your well-being, and not the profit of private insurance companies, is what matters most.
For myself, as a medical student, these hypotheticals aren’t rhetorical. They’re personal. How many of my patients will forgo care to avoid digging into their savings? How many of my patients will suffer for it?
How many will die? Until we pass Medicare for All in this country, I will have already failed them.
Ben Crawford is a first-year medical student at Medical University of South Carolina from Columbia.