Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made waves this week when he penned an op-ed in the Post with the headline, “Someone needs to say it: Medicare For All Is a Pipe Dream.” Of course, the truth is that plenty of people say it. It’s a well worn excuse we hear most often from for-profit insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.
As a practicing Emergency Physician who regularly works with patients who slip through the cracks of the American healthcare system, let me explain why Emanuel’s rhetoric on healthcare is misplaced. For my patients and 44 million Americans who still don’t have health insurance and the tens of millions more who are under-insured, his “can’t-do” Beltway argument simply isn’t an option.
Tragically, it is with increasing regularity that I watch patients go broke because of rising insurance premiums, outrageous co-pays and astronomical deductibles. For them and the 130 million Americans with preexisting conditions, Medicare for All is the best alternative to a profit-driven healthcare system that will never subordinate their bottom line to better healthcare outcomes.
With all due respect, Mr. Emanuel’s rhetoric is straight out of the for-profit healthcare industry playbook. It can’t be done. It’s too big, it’s too hard. Ironically, this is the very language that was deployed against LBJ’s Medicare, and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a victory won under Mr. Emanuel’s tenure as White House Chief-of-staff. In fact, it’s the same argument Mr. Emanuel himself levied against a public healthcare option in 2009. The facts are that the American people are moving on this issue. Americans want Medicare for All: 71 percent of Democratic voters want it; 51 percent of all voters support it; and 49 percent — and growing — of doctors support it. Listen to these doctors. They are bearing witness to the frightening, sometimes gruesome, and all-too- frequently tragic outcomes the incomplete insurance system produces.
It may be true that change frightens a segment of the American electorate. But the status quo is killing people. As a 20-year emergency physician, I see what happens when people don’t have adequate healthcare.
Those who say the current insurance system is sufficient should have met the 55 year-old truck driver who came into my ER at 2 a.m. clutching his empty asthma inhaler and gasping for air. I truly believe that opponents like Mr. Emanuel would be moved if they could have heard how that truck driver “with insurance” could not afford a $100 inhaler with his high deductible plan.
He might also talk to the mother who sat in the ER parking lot for 3 hours watching her child struggle to breathe before finally coming in. She could have told him about the $250 co-pays for emergency care that are causing middle-class people with “health insurance” just like her to ration their healthcare.
For-profit insurance companies and those making their argument would have us wait for universal coverage just like that mom waited in the car.
They want us to believe that Americans love our insurance companies, who force people to pay $10,000 out of pocket on average each year — the most of any country — on top of an additional $14,000 (and rising) in premiums..
What they refuse to tell Americans is that Medicare for All means no more $10,000-per-year out-of-pocket costs. What they refuse to be honest about is that Medicare for All means no more skyrocketing premiums and copays, reducing overall costs and ensuring every American can get the treatment and medications they need, anywhere and anytime they need it. Instead, they promote the same tired rhetoric that for-profit actors use as a cudgel every time America tries to take a step toward universal coverage.
As a doctor, I share what a growing chorus of my colleagues hope for, and that’s helping our patients get the care they need, when they need it, so they can be healthy to live their best lives.
Americans want guaranteed, affordable healthcare, because in too many cases, their lives depend on it.
Executive Director of The Committee to Protect Medicare
& Practicing Emergency Physician