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U.S. health care system: The time for tinkering is over

Nurses know that health care is a human need and therefore must be treated as such, not as a commodity whose price is bargained over like an automobile.

healthcare worker
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Craig Samitt, stated in his March 12 commentary “The Affordable Care Act: Next steps after COVID 19” that “The opportunity to build a better and more equitable health care system is limited only by an unwillingness to change.” The registered nurses of the Minnesota Nurses Association couldn’t agree more.

However, the urgent change that is needed to build a “better and more equitable health care system” won’t be accomplished by continuing to funnel more and more public health care dollars to superfluous health insurance companies. Again, Samitt asks Congress and the Minnesota Legislature to support shoring up those plans with “reinsurance” funding.

We’ve spent over half a decade tinkering around the edges to “fix” our broken health care system and what do we have to show for it? A system that cruelly determines who will live and who will die based on socio-economic status, which is directly tied to your race, gender, geography, age and immigration status. That’s not a health care system, that’s a health care marketplace — it’s discriminatory and inhumane.

A human need, not a commodity

A clear lesson from the SARS CoV2 pandemic is how dangerous a health care system based on employment status truly is. At a time when human beings most need health care, their access to care is attached to a job they may be laid off from, or lose entirely, due to the economic impact of something as serious as a global pandemic. Nurses know that health care is a human need and therefore must be treated as such, not as a commodity whose price is bargained over like an automobile. There is no bargaining over price when the “commodity” is your life. We’re human, we fight to survive and the medical industrial complex knows it.

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What we need is a public health system, one that streamlines the financing of health care to: ensure affordability through negotiation of fair prices and equitable provider payments; guarantee access for everyone, no exceptions; increase quality through a coordinated plan to confront the myriad of health disparities, not the least of which is horrific racial disparities; and allow ultimate freedom for every patient to go to the doctor, nurse, clinic and hospital of their choosing.

Rose Roach
Rose Roach
Isn’t that the kind of health care system we want? No more worrying about double digit percentage increases in premiums, high co-pays and deductibles— instead health care that’s based on our ability to pay. No more families setting up GoFundMe accounts or filing for bankruptcy just because they got sick. Businesses no longer held hostage to the “market” when trying to rightfully provide employees, and for business owners their own families, with health care access. No more insurance companies asking for government bailouts. And never again worrying about getting care when you most need it, like during a pandemic. Health care dollars must be directed to patient care, not insurance CEO compensation, wasteful and unnecessary administrative costs and shareholder dividends. Health is a public good, which is why our health care system must be centered on patients and providers, not C-Suite executives who are completely removed from the bedside and heal no one.

Federal and state options

Pipedream? Not at all. Right now, Congress could pass the Medicare for All Act (introduced by Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Debbie Dingall), supported by over 70% of Americans, or here in Minnesota the state Legislature could pass the Minnesota Health Plan (lead authors Sen. John Marty, SF 1643, and Rep. Cedrick Frazier, HF 1774) and health care justice and freedom would be ours.

Nurses say no to the politics of fear and yes to the politics of hope. As the late Uwe Reinhardt, health economics professor from Princeton University, once said: “If health care costs in the United States were lower, most people would probably agree that ill, low-income citizens should receive the needed health care that is available to better-off individuals. The problem is that our health system is in danger of pricing kindness out of our souls.”

Your nurses are working hard to make sure we don’t price kindness our of our souls. Please join us. All of our lives literally depend on it.

Rose Roach is the executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association.


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