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Leah Schwinn

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Leah Schwinn: Let’s improve our health care system

When you hear the term "single payer" in regards to health care, understand that it is referring to a financing system, one in which a public entity collects the money and pays the bills.

Right now we have many payers, the insurance companies. There are many insurance companies and they each offer many plans. Doctors' offices generally need a billing specialist to handle the complexity. That money could be better spent providing care for patients.

At Representative LaMalfa's town hall in Grass Valley, he said that he opposes single-payer plans because he doesn't think the government runs anything well. He wouldn't want to entrust to the government the entirety of his health care. He used the Veteran's Administration as an example. Please do not be confused by his mistake. The VA is not a single-payer system. It is a government-run program, somewhat like the English model that is usually referred to as socialized medicine.

The government is in charge of paying and in charge of the providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.). Single payer is just the financial side of healthcare. It is the most fiscally responsible method of paying for health care because it is so efficient. It would simplify the billing and paying process, thereby saving billions.

Single payer is just the financial side of healthcare. It is the most fiscally responsible method of paying for health care because it is so efficient.

The single-payer system that SB 562, the Healthy California Act, would bring to California would be a universal health care program. In universal health care, everyone is in the same plan, so it also provides tremendous negotiating power for prescription drugs and medical equipment. In fact, we could save enough money to be able to include dental and vision care. The providers would not change, and with all of us in one plan, we would have more choices in doctors. We would not be limited by our insurance company networks.

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Medicare is an example of a single-payer system, but because it has the oldest and most expensive patients in its risk pool, it cannot function as well as it could if we had everyone in the same risk pool. In addition, it is forbidden by law to negotiate for prescription drug prices. This is part of why we pay more than other countries. Even with the most expensive patients, Medicare still runs on about 3 percent overhead, compared to insurance companies who run on about 30 percent.

That's not a typo, yes — 10 times as much.

Why? Let's look at where the profit-motivated insurance companies spend the money we pay in premiums. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, each of the leading health insurers is spending millions each year on lobbying and millions more on political donations. They spend millions on CEO compensation packages (Aetna's Mark Bertolini earned $27 million in 2015 in total compensation).

LaMalfa said that the Affordable Care Act (Obamamcare) was in big trouble because insurance premiums were rising under the ACA. Yet profits have soared (United Health earned $10.3 billion in profits in 2014). Does it sound like they needed to raise our premiums?

Have you wondered why every other industrialized nation in the world provides universal health coverage to their citizens at half the cost and with better health outcomes than we have? Their coverage is about care, not profit. LaMalfa doesn't want government bureaucrats in charge of his health care. Neither do I. I also don't want corporate bureaucrats in charge, constantly weighing my care against their profits. In a single-payer system, our health care decisions would be made between our doctors and us.

According to The Commonwealth Fund's 2014 Update, "The most notable way the U.S. differs from other industrialized countries is the absence of universal health insurance coverage. Other nations ensure the accessibility of care through universal health systems and through better ties between patients and the physician practices that serve as their medical homes."

Don't let them fool you by claiming that single payer will put the government between you and your doctor.

I agree totally with LaMalfa when he said that we need to go in a different direction. I believe the direction for us is toward a single-payer universal health care system. If you would like to learn more about SB 562, go to http://www.HealthyCaliforniaAct.gov or come to the local Health Care for All meeting at 11 a.m. Saturday in the BriarPatch Co-op's Community Room. Also, Healthy California has organized a town hall meeting on the subject, from 10 a.m. to noon on March 26 at the Maidu Community Center in Roseville. The California Nurses Association will provide a free bus ride for Nevada County residents, leaving from the Kmart parking lot at 8:45 a.m. Please call 530-388-0959 or visit https://goo.gl/forms/8OPWEPTnATOCeoT83 to reserve a spot.

Leah Schwinn resides in Grass Valley, is a retired teaching assistant and a member of the Nevada County Chapter of Health Care for All — CA.