What is Meant by “Single-Payer” in the Current Discussion of Health Care Reforms During the Primaries?

CounterPunch, March 10, 2016
by Vincent Navarro

Vincent Navarro, MD

Vincent Navarro, MD

Professor Navarro has taught at the Johns Hopkins University for many years. He is the Director of the JHU-UPF Public Policy Center and has been advisor to many national organizations and international organizations, including the WHO and the UN. He was a member of the White House Health Care Task Force in 1993 and Senior Advisor to Jesse Jackson’s Campaign in the Democratic Primaries in 1984 and 1985.  

Single-payer means that most of the funds used to pay for medical care are public, that is, they are paid with taxes. The government, through a public authority, is the most important payer for medical care services and uses this power to influence the organization of health care. The overwhelming majority of developed countries have one form or another of a single-payer system. The US is the only country that does not have a single-payer system. This is one reason why medical care is so expensive (the US spends $9,698 per capita in medical care, much more than any other country; Sweden spends $5,000, Germany $4,720, Canada $4,430, France $4,120, the UK $3,240, and Japan $3,240); inefficient (by far, the US has the highest percentage of unnecessary medical procedures, including surgery, in the developed world); and extremely unpopular (nearly 40% of the US population believes the country’s medical care should be reformed completely, vs. only 12% of Canadians and British). US medical care is also extremely cruel and insensitive. Almost 40% of people with terminal conditions, which means they are dying, worry about how they or their families are going to pay for their care.

Why is the US in this situation?
The usual answer is that the majority of funding is private: 48% of funding is public and the majority, or 52%, is private. These percentages, however, are misleading. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, have shown that taking into account the subsidies the government pays to health insurance companies through tax exemptions for their premiums, the overwhelming funding of health services is public.