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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Caroline Avery: Single-payer health plans will save Americans trillions

Caroline Avery

For eight years, Medicaid covered all my medical expenses. From dentist appointments to a minor gymnastics injury-induced ambulance ride, Medicaid gave me access to health care in a system plagued with high costs.

A focal point of the 2020 Democratic primary, health care and its affordability worries the majority of Americans. My siblings and I used public health insurance growing up because we couldn’t afford a private alternative. We owe our good health to Medicaid.

While we relied on the states of Washington and Montana to subsidize our health insurance, our mom went seven years without any coverage. A single mother of four with only a graduate student stipend to live on and no consistent child support payments, she didn’t qualify for Medicaid because she owned the mortgage on our house. Fortunately, she never got seriously sick or injured because she couldn’t even afford an annual checkup. She owes her good health to luck.

America can’t leave its health care to chance any longer.

The current Medicaid and Medicare programs demonstrate that the government can provide good and affordable health insurance. We need to elect lawmakers who will pursue creating a universal single-payer system. Don’t listen to the fearmongering about infeasibility – single-payer plans like Medicare for All will save Americans trillions of dollars in health care spending over a decade. Incremental change over structural overhaul feels comfortable and safe, but our current system is unsustainable.

It’s no secret that our current health care system is deeply flawed. It shuts out millions of Americans. My mom’s experience reveals a dangerous reality for many families who fall somewhere between poor and securely middle class. The high cost of health care forces many families to forgo insurance and risk financial disaster from an accident or illness. Medicaid often mitigates health care costs for the children in these situations, but our parents must depend on employer-based insurance, sacrifice other needs to purchase a private plan, or go without coverage and hope for the best.

Minimizing the reach of Medicaid with stricter eligibility requirements for parents only hurts families. On airplanes, flight attendants advise parents to put on their own oxygen masks first during an emergency before assisting their children. With Medicaid, the government saves the children but threatens to leave us without a breathing caretaker if our parents struggle with their own oxygen masks. We need to guarantee assistance to everyone.

Concerns about health insurance costs aren’t unique to families like mine. One car accident or cancer diagnosis means financial ruin for many households – medical issues cause 66.5 percent of personal bankruptcies in the United States. The American health care system operates on a patchwork of programs and types of insurance to deliver care. Coverage varies from employment-based insurance, private direct-purchase plans, and government-subsidized Medicaid and Medicare programs. Its for-profit and private nature results in unnecessarily high costs that only continue to grow. This complicated and expensive system left 27.5 million people uninsured in 2018.

We are in desperate need of a new approach to covering health care. Democratic presidential candidates offer detailed solutions to reaching the uninsured and cutting costs. Plans that allow the current existence of private health insurance, however, won’t succeed in making care truly affordable for all Americans. The Affordable Care Act tried working within the current system. While it works well for people who qualify for premium subsidies, it fails individuals like my mom, who barely misses the cutoff. Candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders fully endorse a single-payer system because they recognize that private insurance only hurts families.

The private health sector riddles our health care system with high administrative costs, price inflation of drugs and services, and inadequate coverage. Relying primarily on private insurance results in high costs for everyone and shuts out those who can’t afford it but don’t qualify for government assistance.

Don’t leave it to luck. Vote in 2020 like it’s your family struggling to pay for a basic human right.

Caroline Avery is from Spokane and graduated from Lewis and Clark High School. She is currently studying public policy at Duke University.

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