Category Archives: socialism

Bernie Sanders’s new Medicare-for-all plan, Let’s Try to Explain It!

13087623_880614638734863_3163237933041741124_nVox.com reporter Sarah Kliff noted last year that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a proposal to transition the United States to a single-payer health care system, one where a single government-run plan provides insurance coverage to all Americans.

The Sanders plan envisions a future in which all Americans have health coverage and pay nothing out of pocket when they visit the doctor. His plan, the Medicare for All Act, describes a benefits package that is more generous than what other single-payer countries, like Canada, currently offer their residents.

The Sanders plan goes into great detail about the type of coverage Americans would receive. But it provides no information on how it would finance such a generous health care system. Americans’ taxes would have to change to pay for this kind of proposal. But it’s impossible to tell who would pay significantly more for their coverage and who would pay less, and by how much. This is a crucial part of any health care plan, and in the Sanders proposal, it is notably absent.

So while the plan would certainly move the American uninsured rate from around 8.8 percent to nearly zero, in theory, it’s impossible to tell what it would take to get there and what the bigger economic picture would look like if we did.

Let’s take a look!

The Sanders bill includes an exceptionally generous benefit package

Sanders’s single-payer proposal would create a universal Medicare program that covers all American residents in one government-run health plan.

It would bar employers from offering separate plans that compete with this new, government-run option. It would sunset Medicare and Medicaid, transitioning their enrollees into the new universal plan. It would, however, allow two existing health systems to continue to operate as they do now: the Veterans Affairs health system and the Indian Health Services.

Those who do qualify for the new universal Medicare plan would get four years to transition into the new coverage. In the interim, they would have the option to buy into Medicare or another publicly run option that does not currently exist.

Eventually, though, they would all end up in the same plan, which includes an especially robust set of benefits. It would cover hospital visits, primary care, medical devices, lab services, maternity care, and prescription drugs as well as vision and dental benefits.

The plan is significantly more generous than the single-payer plans run by America’s peer countries. The Canadian health care system, for example, does not cover vision or dental care, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, or home health services. Instead, two-thirds of Canadians take out private insurance policies to cover these benefits. The Netherlands has a similar set of benefits (it also excludes dental and vision care), as does Australia.

What’s more, the Sanders plan does not subject consumers to any out-of-pocket spending on health aside from prescriptions drugs. This means there would be no charge when you go to the doctor, no copayments when you visit the emergency room. All those services would be covered fully by the universal Medicare plan.

This too is out of line with international single-payer systems, which often require some payment for seeking most services. Taiwan’s single-payer system charges patients when they visit the doctor or the hospital (although it includes an exemption for low-income patients). In Australia, people pay 15 percent of the cost of their visit with any specialty doctor.

The Sanders plan is more generous than the plans Americans currently receive at work too. Most employer-sponsored plans last year had a deductible of more than $1,000. It is more generous than the current Medicare program, which covers Americans over 65 and has seniors pay 20 percent of their doctor visit costs even after they meet their deductibles.

Medicare, employer coverage, and these other countries show that nearly every insurance scheme we’re familiar with covers a smaller set of benefits with more out-of-pocket spending on the part of citizens. Private insurance plans often spring up to fill these gaps (in Canada, for example, vision and dental insurance is often sponsored by employers, much like in the United States).

The reason they went this way is clear: It’s cheaper to run a health plan with fewer benefits. The plan Sanders proposes has no analog among the single-payer systems that currently exist. By covering a more comprehensive set of benefits and asking no cost sharing of enrollees, it is likely to cost the government significantly more than programs other countries have adopted.

Would Sanders’s health plan lower American health spending? It’s hard to tell.

One of Sanders’s main arguments in favor of his health care bill is that American health spending is out of control and single-payer would rein it in.

There are certain policies in the Sanders plan that would reduce American health care spending. For one, moving all Americans on to one health plan would reduce the administrative waste in our health care system in the long run.

American doctors spend lots of money dealing with insurers because there are thousands of them, each negotiating their own rate with every hospital and doctor. An appendectomy, for example, can cost anywhere from $1,529 to $186,955, depending on how good of a deal an insurer can get from a hospital.

That doesn’t happen in a single-payer system like the one Sanders proposes. Instead of dealing with dozens of insurers that set hundreds of prices, doctors only need to send bills to the federal government.

One 2003 article in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that the United States spends twice as much on administrative costs as Canada. A 2011 study in the journal Health Affairs estimates American doctors spend four times as much dealing with insurance companies compared with Canada.

A single-payer health plan would have the authority to set one price for each service; an appendectomy, for example, would no longer vary so wildly from one hospital to another. Instead, the Sanders plan envisions using current Medicare rates as the new standard price for medical services in the United States.

Medicare typically has lower prices than those charged by private insurance plans that cover Americans under 65. This suggests that switching to the Medicare fee schedule would be another policy change that would tug health spending downward.

But there are forces in the Sanders plan that encourages higher health spending too. Its robust benefits package with no cost sharing would likely lead to more doctor visits and hospital trips. As the classic RAND Health Insurance Experiment found, patients respond to lower cost sharing in health care by seeking more treatment. Some of that treatment is necessary, but other services provided are not.

And the Sanders bill would actually raise the prices currently paid by Medicaid, which covers about 50 million low-income Americans. Medicaid traditionally pays lower prices than Medicare and private insurance. If these patients were absorbed into the universal Medicare plan, their doctors would be paid more each time they were seen.

We haven’t seen a Congressional Budget Office score of the Sanders plan yet — and it’s hard to know how these countervailing forces (some pushing health spending up and others forcing it down) would interact with one another to change overall health costs.

The big question Sanders doesn’t answer: how do you pay for it?

The Sanders plan goes into great detail on what kind of coverage a universal plan ought to offer. But it does not do any work explaining how to pay for such a generous benefits package.

A Sanders spokesperson said over email the office would release a set of financing options later Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s nobody who has all of the answers,” Sanders told my colleague Jeff Stein when asked about the financing of his health plan. “Nobody has all the answers. What I can say is we are going to be listing a number of revenue-raising proposals, which will generate more than enough money to pay for what we want to do.”

Eventually, though, somebody will need to have those answers — and they’re not easy to find.

Financing the health care system that Sanders envisions is an immense challenge. About half of the countries that attempt to build single-payer systems fail. That’s Harvard health economist William Hsiao’s estimate after working with about 10 governments in the past two decades. Whether he is in Taiwan, Cyprus, or Vermont, the process is roughly the same: Meet with legislators, draw up a plan, write legislation. Only half of those bills actually become law. The part where it collapses is, inevitably, when the country has to pay for it.

This is what happened when Sanders’s home state of Vermont attempted to create a single-payer plan in 2014. Much like Sanders, local legislators outlined a clear vision of the type of health plan they’d want to extend to all Vermonters. Their plan was arguably less ambitious; it did require patients to pay money when they went to the doctor.

Read this carefully, but Vermont’s single-payer dream fell apart when the state figured out how much it would need to raise taxes to finance its new system. Vermont abandoned the government-run plan after finding it would need to increase payroll taxes by 11.5 percent and income tax by 9 percent.

It’s true — in Vermont and in the United States — that these increased taxes don’t necessarily mean overall health spending is rising. It’s entirely possible that health spending will go down as taxes go up, with Americans no longer spending billions on premiums for employer-sponsored coverage.

Single-payer systems change who pays for health care, often shifting more of the burden onto wealthier individuals to create a more progressive system. The proposed 9 percent income tax in Vermont, for example, would be far more expensive for the $100,000 worker than the $30,000 earner.

But who pays how much more is a key question this Sanders bill doesn’t answer. Until there is a version that does, we can’t know whether the health system the Vermont senator envisions could actually become reality.

Why ‘Medicare for All’ Is a Misleading Term for Single-Payer Health Care

Ed Kilgore stated that one of the much-discussed merits of a single-payer health-care system is its simplicity as compared to a complex public-private hybrid like Obamacare. Proponents often like to call single-payer “Medicare for all,” building on the familiarity and popularity of the country’s chief retirement-health-care program.

But before getting serious about enacting single-payer legislation nationally or in the states, proponents of “Medicare for all” should make it clear not to take the slogan too literally. Including all Americans in the Medicare program as it exists today probably would not work, and might not even be all that popular in practice.

For one thing, Medicare is by design an “acute care” program. It does not cover long-term hospital stays or nursing-home care and excludes some routine care (e.g., dental and vision care). Presumably, a single-payer program designed to replace all or most private insurance would be more comprehensive than Medicare.

Perhaps more importantly, from a political point of view, Medicare is neither free nor easy for beneficiaries.

Medicare Parts A (which covers medically necessary hospital services), B (which covers doctors’ fees and some hospital outpatient services), and D (prescription drug benefits) all have sizable deductibles and co-payments. That is why most seniors who can afford it buy supplemental insurance to cover such “cost-sharing measures” (poorer or disabled seniors who also qualify for Medicaid get fuller coverage through that program). Parts B and D also charge monthly premiums, which most seniors pay through automatic deductions from their Social Security checks. Extending this to people who don’t qualify for Medicaid, don’t want to pay for a “Medigap” policy, or don’t receive Social Security benefits would require a very different structure. As is, “Medicare for all” would certainly conflict with the general argument that single-payer health care gets rid of all those nasty out-of-pocket expenses.

The more you look at it, the more “Medicare for all” is, well, misleading. And it is politically perilous to mislead people about sweeping new health-care programs, as Congress learned in 1988 with the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988, a major bipartisan initiative that had to be repealed the next year when seniors figured out it duplicated the Medigap coverage many already had instead of addressing long-term-care needs.

The scant resemblance of most single-payer proposals to the actual Medicare program is just one problem proponents have in making themselves clear. They also need to agree on what single payer itself means, other than something sorta kinda like Medicare except when it’s not. Would single payer literally outlaw private insurance, allow it on the margins, or indeed deploy private insurance companies within a framework of government-guaranteed care (as happens now with Medicare Advantage plans or Medicaid managed-care systems)? The many available variations have all sorts of pros and cons. But pretending it’s all very simple obscures these options.

Maybe it’s time for single-payer advocates to place less emphasis on alleged simplicity, and more on health care as a right that Americans should enjoy universally and equally. It might avoid some hard feelings down the road.

But this concept has confused me and I have attempted to resolve the question of whether health care for all is a right or a privilege? I will spend more on this topic in the future but next week let us spend more time further discussing this concept of a health care strategy such as the Medicare for All proposal.

Question-what is the cost and who will pay for it?

First Boys Rescued From Thailand Cave as Rest of Youth Soccer Team Awaits Safety. But What About the Thai Health Care System?

Untitled.Extra

Karen Mizoguchi of People magazine reported this morning that rescue operations have begun for the 12 boys and their coach trapped at the Thailand cave for more than two weeks.

On Sunday, after at least eight hours since a team of divers started rescue efforts, at least four boys have emerged from the cave, as reported by multiple news outlets. The Thai Navy SEAL official Facebook page also confirmed four players were evacuated.

In addition, two ambulances were seen leaving the site with one boy believed to be in each. A team of 13 international cave diving experts and five Thai Navy SEALs entered the cave with the mission of accompanying each boy one by one through the flooded tunnels, that claimed the life of a former Thai Navy SEAL diver on Friday.

“Two kids are out. They are currently at the field hospital near the cave,” Tossathep Boonthong, chief of Chiang Rai’s health department and part of the rescue team, told Reuters. “We are giving them a physical examination. They have not been moved to Chiang Rai hospital yet.”

The bobbleheads then when on to taut the wonder of the Thai healthcare and how wonderful it is and that it is free universal health care.

Well, even as I have only one or two more edits on my original post for the week on Bernie Sanders and his Medicare for All policy, I thought that I would look at the Thai health care system. Is it as great as the commentators have been suggesting?

So, what is the health care system in Thailand all about?

Wikipedia states that Thailand has had “a long and successful history of health development,” according to the World Health Organization. Life expectancy is averaged at seventy years and a system providing universal health care for Thai nationals has been established since 2002.

Health and medical care are overseen by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), along with several other non-ministerial government agencies, with total national expenditures on health amounting to 4.3 percent of GDP in 2009.

Non-communicable diseases form the major burden of morbidity and mortality, while infectious diseases including malaria and tuberculosis, as well as traffic accidents, are also important public health issues.

Infrastructure                                                                                                                               Most services in Thailand are delivered by the public sector, which by 2010, included 1,002 hospitals and 9,765 health stations. Universal health care is provided through three programs: the civil service welfare system for civil servants and their families, Social Security for private employees, and the universal coverage scheme that is theoretically available to all other Thai nationals. Some private hospitals are participants in the programs, but most are financed by patient self-payment and private insurance. According to the World Bank, under Thailand’s health schemes, 99.5 percent of the population have health protection coverage.

The MOPH oversees national health policy and also operates most government health facilities. The National Health Security Office (NHSO) allocates funding through the universal coverage program. Other health-related government agencies include the Health System Research Institute (HSRI), Thai Health Promotion Foundation (“ThaiHealth”), National Health Commission Office (NHCO), and the Emergency Medical Institute of Thailand (EMIT). Although there have been national policies for decentralization, there has been resistance in implementing such changes and the MOPH still directly controls most aspects of health care.

Thailand introduced universal coverage reforms in 2001, one of only a handful of lower-middle income countries to do so. Means-tested health care for low-income households was replaced by a new and more comprehensive insurance scheme, originally known as the 30 baht project, in line with the small co-payment charged for treatment. People joining the scheme receive a gold card, which allows them to access services in their health district and, if necessary, to be referred for specialist treatment elsewhere.

The bulk of health financing comes from public revenues, with funding allocated to contracting units for primary care annually on a population basis. According to the WHO, 65 percent of Thailand’s healthcare expenditure in 2004 came from the government, while 35 percent was from private sources. Thailand achieved universal coverage with relatively low levels of spending on health, but it faces significant challenges: rising costs, inequalities, and duplication of resources.

Although the reforms have received a good deal of criticism, they have proved popular with poorer Thais, especially in rural areas, and they survived the change of government after the 2006 military coup. Then, the Public Health Minister, Mongkol Na Songkhla, abolished the 30 baht co-payment and made the scheme free. It is not yet clear whether the scheme will be modified further under the military government that came to power in May 2014.

In 2009, annual spending on health care amounted to 345 international dollars per person in purchasing power parity (PPP). Total expenditures represented about 4.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Of this amount, 75.8 percent came from public sources and 24.2 percent from private sources. Physician density was 2.98 per 10,000 population in 2004, with 22 hospital beds per 100,000 population in 2002

Data for utilization of health services in 2008 include 81 percent contraceptive prevalence, 80 percent antenatal care coverage with at least four visits, 99 percent of births attended by skilled health personnel, 98 percent measles immunization coverage among one-year-olds, and 82 percent success in the treatment of smear-positive tuberculosis. Improved drinking-water sources were available to 98 percent of the population, and 96 percent were using improved sanitation facilities (2008).

Most hospitals in Thailand are operated by the Ministry of Public Health. Private hospitals are regulated by the Medical Registration Division. Other government units and public organizations also operate hospitals, including the military, universities, local governments, and the Red Cross.

Government Health Services                                                                                                            In Thailand, government-funded health care is funded by the Department of Medical Services at the Ministry of Public Health. The Ministry is in charge of public health services, government hospitals, and medical services. Public health facilities in Thailand offer good medical services, but government hospitals are often crowded, which means waiting times can be long. In addition, facilities in public hospitals may not be as good as those in private hospitals in Thailand. Treatment is completely free for Thai citizens holding a Universal Coverage Health card, except on Saturdays, when a charge is made. The National Health Security Office issues this Universal Coverage Health card. Normal charges apply for non-Thais, but these charges will be less than in a private hospital.

Private Medical Sector                                                                                                            Thailand is one of the leading medical tourism destinations in Asia. Most of the private hospitals in Thailand have excellent medical facilities and staff.

Non-Profit Health Organizations                                                                                                      A variety of agencies exist in Thailand to help disadvantaged people. These agencies include the Red Cross, World Vision, and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Doctors in Thailand                                                                                                                        Most of the doctors in Thailand are specialists. For this reason, it may be difficult for you to find a reliable general practitioner to treat you for minor medical issues. At a general hospital, a doctor who is a specialist in a certain field will most likely examine you. It may be difficult for this specialist to deal with a number of smaller medical conditions that you might have. The best idea for you might be to seek an internist as your first resort.

Please note that there are still major hospitals in Thailand that employ family doctors or medical practitioners. In addition, most doctors in Thailand do not have one specific place of work. Thai surgeons and physicians are employed at different hospitals that can be spread all over the city. Some of these doctors also have private clinics. For this reason, doctors in Thailand are likely to go from hospital to hospital to do their rounds. Some issues arise from this. For example, if you have just had surgery and a problem arises, your surgeon may have already left for another hospital and may have to deal with your situation over the phone.

Emergency Transport Facilities                                                                                       Emergency transport facilities in Thailand are unfortunately somewhat lacking. Although large hospitals in Thailand do have mobile intensive care units, you will rarely see an ambulance racing through the streets of Bangkok. Traffic accidents are attended to by volunteer organizations. The main obstacle in terms of emergency transport is the traffic in Bangkok; cars do not generally move out of the way for an ambulance.

Thailand has had a universal health-care coverage scheme since 2002. Apiradee Treerutkuarkul examines how renal-replacement therapy for the chronic end-stage renal disease is straining the scheme’s resources.

In 1998 21-year-old Thunyalak Boonsumlit fell ill so her worried parents took her to hospital. “I thought I had food poisoning,” she recalls. The doctor, however, told her she had acute kidney disease and would die without immediate treatment. There was more bad news: although her parents were insured by Thailand’s Civil Servant Medical Benefit Scheme, this scheme only covers dependents up to the age of 20. Boonsumlit was treated for a month and sent home.

In 2002 Thailand reformed its public health financing system. This extended the scope of coverage to 18 million people who were uninsured and to a further 29 million who were previously covered by less-comprehensive schemes.

It was the realization of a project that had been a quarter of a century in the making, starting with the creation of a social welfare scheme for the poor in 1975. The new scheme offered comprehensive health care that included not just basics, such as free prescription drugs, outpatient care, hospitalization and disease prevention, but more expensive medical services, such as radiotherapy, surgery and critical care for accidents and emergencies. But it did not cover renal-replacement therapy due to budget constraints. Boonsumlit and thousands of fellow sufferers were on their own.

“There was a concern that renal-replacement therapy could burden the system. Major health risks leading to kidney diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, were still not well controlled,” says Dr. Prateep Dhanakijcharoen, deputy secretary general of the National Health Security Office, which oversees the Universal Coverage Scheme. And renal replacement therapy is expensive. The cost of hemodialysis is about 400,000 baht (US$ 12,100) per year. This is four times higher than the 100,000 baht (US$ 3,000) per quality-adjusted life year threshold set by the National Health Security Office’s benefits package subcommittee for drugs and treatments. This threshold was adopted as a national benchmark.

Dhanakijcharoen believes that the Universal Coverage Scheme plan should have included kidney disease from the outset, a view shared by Dr. Viroj Tangcharoensathien, director of the International Health Policy Programme at the Ministry of Public Health. It was a simple matter of fairness: “There are three health-care schemes in Thailand,” he says. “Only the Universal Coverage Scheme did not include renal-replacement therapy.”

In 2005 Boonsumlit became ill again and was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. For a year her parents had to pay 400,000 baht (US$ 12,100) to cover her dialysis. This time she was told that if a suitable donor could be found, a kidney transplant was the best option. The procedure cost 300,000 baht (US$ 9,000). Boonsumlit’s mother donated a kidney, and once again she and her husband paid all the bills, including the cost of post-transplant medication required to prevent the rejection of a new kidney.

But there was increasing community pressure for change. People like Subil Noksakul, who had spent his life savings on medical treatment over a period of 19 years, were tired of being treated like pariahs. “I once managed to save 7 million baht. But all my savings are now all gone,” he says. Like everyone else, he found it unacceptable that the Civil Servant Medical Benefit Scheme and the Social Security Scheme, which rely on public funds, both offered treatment for kidney disease while the Universal Coverage Scheme did not.

In 2006 Noksakul founded the Thai Kidney Club, which raised kidney patients’ awareness of their rights and put pressure on the National Health Security Office to provide treatment. Finally, in January 2008, the then public health minister, Mongkol Na Songkhla, bowed to public pressure and included renal-replacement therapy in the scheme. For Boonsumlit, Noksakul and thousands of other kidney patients, it was a watershed moment.

Unsurprisingly, since 2008, demand for treatment has spiraled. According to Dhanakijcharoen, 2.5 billion baht (US$ 76 million) of the total annual National Health Security Office budget of 120 billion baht (US$ 3.62 billion) has been allocated to renal-replacement therapy with 8,000 patients receiving haemodialysis and 4000 receiving peritoneal dialysis: to meet the full need, this treatment would require a huge increase in funding.

“The cost of renal replacement therapy is still less than 2% of the total budget,” he says, but warns the cost could blow out should Thailand fail to focus on prevention and reduce new cases.

The Ministry of Public Health’s Tangcharoensathien paints an even starker picture: “Without alternatives, renal-replacement therapy, when fully scaled up to target end-stage kidney patients, could consume more than 12% of the Universal Coverage Scheme annual budget, and push it to the verge of financial crisis,” he says.

The National Health Security Office is trying to reduce some costs by encouraging patients to perform their own peritoneal dialysis at home. This is dialysis in which patients filter their own blood by periodically injecting fluid into the abdominal cavity, which is later drained. Tangcharoensathien believes nurses can play a crucial role in training patients and family members to use equipment that is provided free of charge under universal coverage. Meanwhile, those patients who continue with the more expensive hemodialysis must now pay one-third of the total cost of treatment.

It is debatable whether home-treatment would have a big impact on costs, given the increased risk of infection and subsequent expenses associated with peritoneal dialysis, which costs up to 240,000 baht (US$ 7,300) annually. However, it would save rural patients the twice-weekly fares to visit a hemodialysis center in a provincial city, which poor patients cannot afford. The National Health Security Office aims to reduce the cost of peritoneal dialysis to about 200,000 baht (US$ 6000) per year.

More promising perhaps is the government’s broader campaign to improve the nation’s renal health. Screening for diabetes and hypertension, as part of a 2.5 billion baht (US$ 76 million project) is due to start this year. According to the National Health Security Office’s Dhanakijcharoen, the project will cover 5500 communities and municipalities nationwide. “Although the current health-promotion fund is still insufficient, it is a good start for prevention and early detection of diabetes and hypertension among local residents,” Dhanakijcharoen says, adding that encouraging healthier lifestyles will also help to reduce the cost of chronic disease and the burden it places on the health budget.

Tangcharoensathien concurs: “If the government allocated more budget to run the scheme, the National Health Security Office would be able to invest more in reducing health risks, and people would not end up with kidney disease in the first place.”

Both men are eager to see the latest universal coverage initiative succeed. They are proud of what has been achieved on total health expenditure equivalent to 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) – compared to the world median of 6.2% of GDP and 4.5% for lower-middle income countries. Dhanakijcharoen says, “We would like to let the world know that it’s not necessary to launch a universal health-care system only when the money is there; what is important is to work steadily on it. But dedication is a must.”

The Question is what Thailand can teach the world about universal healthcare

The Asian nation proves that a well-researched system with dedicated leadership can improve health, affordably. In 10 years, its plan reduced infant mortality, decreased worker sick days and lightened families’ financial burdens

While countries all over the world are moving toward universal healthcare, for many it remains just a goal. But a handful of them have rolled out universal health coverage schemes, and there’s plenty to learn from these nations. Consider Thailand, where leaders successfully implemented sweeping healthcare reform without breaking the bank.

In 2000, about one-quarter of people in Thailand were uninsured, and many other people had policies that granted incomplete protection. As a result, the country was in a healthcare crisis. More than 17,000 children younger than five died that year, about two-thirds of them from easily preventable infectious diseases. And about 20% of the poorest Thai homes fell into poverty from out-of-pocket healthcare spending.

In 2001, Thailand introduced the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS). It’s described as “one of the most ambitious healthcare reforms ever undertaken in a developing country” in the book Millions Saved: New The Center for Global Development reviewed the Thai healthcare system and found Cases of Proven Success in Global Health. The UCS, which spread to all provinces the following year, provides outpatient, inpatient and emergency care, available to all according to need. By 2011, the program covered 48 million Thais or 98% of the population.

Several things worked in favor of Thailand’s UCS, including a sustained support system and a broad reach. Reformers from the 2001 general election’s winning political party, Thai Rak Thai, held leadership positions, and they were able to help back the program. As described by Dr. Suwit Wibulpolprasert, the program’s policy director and Thailand’s deputy secretary of the ministry of health at the time, the UCS had to go wide quickly. “The challenge was to implement it fast,” he says. “It couldn’t be done over 10 years because there was huge political pressure.”

Thailand’s UCS was implemented in every province by January 2002, but this level of comprehensive care had taken decades to develop. Since the 1970s, free medical care had been available to some people in poverty, but the country had a range of health insurance schemes that left many without coverage. Developing infrastructure – hospitals, clinics, and trained staff – to support universal coverage took years.

According to Dr. Sara Bennett, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, quality is the most challenging aspect of universal healthcare in developing countries. Government-funded healthcare is often free, but it can be geographically inaccessible, limited to a few facilities and administered by poorly trained staff. In addition, what works in urban areas might not be suited to rural contexts and vice versa.

When Thailand established solid health infrastructure, universal healthcare “totally changed the relationship between patients and doctors”, Wibulpolprasert says. Before, patients paid a fee to their doctors when they visited the hospital. After 2001, the government paid hospitals, including salaries for staff, and financially incentivized medical professionals to serve unpopular rural areas.

The lessons in Thailand: a well-researched system with a dedicated leadership can improve health, and in an affordable way. As of 2011, the country’s health scheme cost just $80 per person annually, primarily funded by general income tax; it effectively reduced infant mortality, decreased worker sick days and lightened families’ financial burden for healthcare.

Meanwhile, in the US, securing agreement from political leadership is one of the most contentious issues over universal healthcare. The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was signed into law in 2010, yet is still embroiled in political controversy. However, the plan is paying off: more people than ever are insured and out-of-pocket spending has dramatically declined among those insured.

Around the world, many low- and middle-income countries are also moving toward universal care. “They are covering more people, who are paying less out of pocket and have access to a broader array of services,” Bennett says. “Many countries are making significant strides towards this, including the poorest.”

Paying for universal health care remains a challenge. In South Korea, for instance, care is funded by compulsory health insurance from all citizens and covers about 97% of the population. However, the country’s health system is in growing deficit.

Listen carefully, in Thailand, affordability is not currently an issue, though the cost of the program as a proportion of general income tax is rising yearly. The cost and payment for the system have to be considered in our country of the U.S.A. if we want a universal health care system of any type! Still, the UCS continues to have wide support from the country’s government, health workers, and the wider population.

“The challenge is to make it more efficient, to get more for less money, particularly with the introduction of new technology and new drugs,” Wibulpolprasert says.

According to Carolyn Hart, Washington office director at health consultancy John Snow Inc, a multisectoral approach is a key to global healthcare. “We are looking at the need to develop channels at all price points including free, subsidized and pay as you go, which could be insurance,” she says.

“How can [countries] afford not to invest in the health of their people?” she adds. “Poor health holds you back so badly.”

We just have to decide to make the right decisions and what the correct design of our health care system and how we are going to pay for it. There are many differences here as there are in many of the countries that have a universal health care system and we have to examine which we can adapt to create a successful, caring and sustainable system.

Onward to discuss Bernie’s proposal and luck and prayers to the divers and Thai children and their coach.

Is Statewide Single-Payer Feasible, or Is It Just ‘California Dreamin’?

15826113_1072477266215265_6530794931196981565_nLast week we were treated to the future with the Democrats having the new candidate and even worse, a socialist getting involved in the future of our country and especially health care, immigration, and even more. Be careful! After her victory in Tuesday’s primary election, a lot of political commentators scrambled to figure out how a young socialist like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez managed to unseat 10-year incumbent Joe Crowley. While there are some obvious explanations, like her campaign was strong and her ideas are good, the upset has also inspired dismissiveness and hand-wringing, with Nancy Pelosi brushing off the win as just “one district” and op-eds proclaiming that “Democrats can kiss swing voters goodbye with the progressive ballot.”

But Ocasio-Cortez is aware of those critiques—in fact, she had them in mind throughout her campaign.

This may be as good an electoral policy as the Democrats have had in a long time. For decades the Democratic playbook has been to try to peel off moderate Republican voters rather than energize a working class and left-wing base, and while that could, debatably, be a sound strategy in purple districts, it doesn’t make sense in a reliably blue territory. On top of that, the insistence on always playing to the middle while the Republican Party swings further into full-blown authoritarianism has produced a huge imagination deficit among the Democrats. There have been precious few big ideas coming out of the Democratic Party, particularly ideas that voters care about, and in that vacuum, the central policies of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, like Medicare for all and abolishing ICE, are concrete and exciting.

And on top of that, Ocasio-Cortez’s success has shown that her policies are popular. So popular that mainstream Democrats are quickly getting on board with things like abolishing ICE: this past week both Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand have publicly endorsed the position. It shouldn’t have taken a blowout election for establishment Democrats to come out against agencies literally throwing kids in cages, but it’s a big step forward from the previously most mainstream solution of throwing kids in cages along with their parents.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign is evidence that big solutions aren’t just fantasies. As long as Democrats are too afraid or just unwilling to take stands on the deepening crises happening on fronts across the country, they have little hope of regaining real political power and even less of actually accomplishing anything.

Rich Pedroncelli wrote that California’s leading progressives are currently debating — amicably, for the moment — when the right time will arrive to destroy the state’s healthcare system.

The frontrunner in the race for the governor’s mansion, current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, has long championed single-payer health care. But he recently softened his support. “[Single-payer] is not an act that would occur by the signature of the next governor,” he recently said. “There’s a lot of mythology about that.”

His most progressive allies — including the California Nurses Association, which has led the charge for single-payer — appear to be in more of a hurry. “To get there, state leaders must have the political will,” said Stephanie Roberson, a legislative advocate for the Association.

This debate — over when to implement single-payer — misses the point. Any single-payer system would be a disaster for California taxpayers and patients, whether it’s established tomorrow or in ten years.

California’s most recent dalliance with single-payer originated last June when the State Senate passed SB 562, the Healthy California Act. The bill would consolidate all public insurance programs — including Medicare and Medi-Cal — into a single state-run health plan. That plan would also gobble up uninsured Californians, those who buy insurance through Covered California, and the millions who currently have coverage through work.

Like most single-payer schemes, the proposed system would effectively outlaw private insurance. Public officials would determine which drugs, procedures, and services the one-size-fits-all system covers. Care would be free at the point of service. Californians would pay no premiums, deductibles, or co-pays, and referrals to specialists would not be necessary.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon ultimately rejected SB 562 as “woefully incomplete,” since it included no funding mechanism. But to pacify progressives, he formed a special commission, grandly titled the “Assembly Select Committee on Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage,” to further study single-payer.

The Committee heard more than 30 hours of testimony before releasing a report authored by an independent healthcare consultant and professors from the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California, San Diego. That report essentially concluded that implementing single-payer would be impossible in the short term.

Among the reasons? It’d cost about $400 billion. That’s more than double California’s entire annual budget.

In theory, the state could cover about half that total by poaching federal funding from existing public insurance programs, such as Medicare and Medi-Cal. But as the report points out, that would require a federal waiver — one the Trump administration almost certainly wouldn’t grant.

Even if Democrats retake the White House in 2020 and grant California a waiver, the state would still have to come up with $200 billion to fund the single-payer system. Senate leaders have floated a 15 percent payroll tax.

A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, economist Robert Pollin on behalf of the California Nurses Association claims that the state would only need to raise an additional $106 billion in revenue.

And even if those wildly optimistic projections are correct, California would still have to raise taxes significantly. The nurses’ study suggests an additional 2.3 percent sales tax — on top of the existing 7.25 percent levy — and an equivalent tax on business revenue.

Such enormous tax increases would drive businesses out of California. As the tax base continually shrinks, lawmakers would be forced to raise tax rates higher and higher to offset the lost revenue.

On the other side of the equation, single-payer advocates’ rosy revenue projections are predicated upon wresting significant savings out of the healthcare status quo. Practically, that means paying doctors and hospitals less — rates likely tied to Medicare or Medi-Cal, which are much lower than those paid by private insurers.

Many doctors would respond to such pay cuts by retiring early or moving to other states. Meanwhile, the best and brightest medical students would think twice about coming to California to practice. These twin outcomes would exacerbate the Golden State’s existing shortage of physicians, particularly in high-need areas.

Publicly funded health care for all sure sounds good. But the math behind single-payer doesn’t add up. And all the political will in the world can’t overcome that fact.

Canadians are one in a million — while waiting for medical treatment

Sally Pipes wrote that Canada’s single-payer healthcare system forced over 1 million patients to wait for necessary medical treatments last year. That’s an all-time record.

Those long wait times were more than just a nuisance; they cost patients $1.9 billion in lost wages, according to a new report by the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think-tank.

Lengthy treatment delays are the norm in Canada and other single-payer nations, which ration care to keep costs down. Yet more and more Democratic leaders are pushing for a single-payer system — and more and more voters are clamoring for one.

Indeed, three in four Americans now support a national health plan — and a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that health care is the most important issue for voters in the coming election.

The leading proponent of transitioning the United States to a single-payer system is Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s firebrand independent. If Sanders and his allies succeed, Americans will face the same delays and low-quality care as their neighbors to the north.

By his own admission, Sen. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill is modeled on Canada’s healthcare system. On a fact-finding trip to Canada last fall, Sanders praised the country for “guaranteeing health care to all people,” noting that “there is so much to be learned” from the Canadian system.

The only thing Canadian patients are “guaranteed” is a spot on a waitlist. As the Fraser report notes, in 2017, more than 173,000 patients waited for an ophthalmology procedure. Another 91,000 lined up for some form of general surgery, while more than 40,000 waited for a urology procedure.

All told, nearly 3 percent of Canada’s population was waiting for some kind of medical care at the end of last year.

Those delays were excruciatingly long. After receiving a referral from a general practitioner, the typical patient waited more than 21 weeks to receive treatment from a specialist. That was the longest average waiting period on record — and more than double the median wait in 1993.

Rural patients faced even longer delays. For instance, the average Canadian in need of orthopedic surgery waited almost 24 weeks for treatment — but the typical patient in rural Nova Scotia waited nearly 39 weeks for the same procedure.

One Ontario woman, Judy Congdon, learned that she needed a hip replacement in 2016, according to the Toronto Sun. Doctors initially scheduled the procedure for September 2017 — almost a year later. The surgery never happened on schedule. The hospital ran over budget, forcing physicians to postpone the operation for another year.

In the United States, suffering for a year or more before receiving a joint replacement is unheard of. In Canada, it’s normal.

Canadians lose a lot of money waiting for their “free” socialized medicine. On average, patients forfeit over $1,800 in lost wages. And that’s only counting the working hours they miss due to pain and immobility.

The Fraser Institute researchers also calculated the value of all the waking hours that patients lost because they couldn’t fully function. The toll was staggering — almost $5,600 per patient, totaling $5.8 billion nationally. And those calculations ignore the value of uncompensated care provided by family members, who often take time off work or quit their jobs to help ill loved ones.

Canada isn’t an anomaly. Every nation that offers government-funded, universal coverage features long wait times. When the government makes health care “free,” consumers’ demand for medical services surges. Patients have no incentive to limit their doctor visits or choose more cost-efficient providers.

To prevent expenses from ballooning, the government sets strict budget caps that only enable hospitals to hire a limited number of staff and purchase a meager amount of equipment. Demand inevitably outstrips supply. Shortages result.

Just look at the United Kingdom’s government enterprise, the National Health Service, which turns 70 this July. Today, British hospitals are so overcrowded that doctors regularly treat patients in hallways. The agency recently canceled tens of thousands of surgeries, including urgent cancer procedures, because of severe resource shortages. And this winter, nearly 17,000 patients waited in the backs of their ambulances — many for an hour or more — before hospital staff could clear space for them in the emergency room.

Most Americans would look at these conditions in horror. Yet Sen. Sanders and his fellow travelers continue to treat the healthcare systems in Canada and the UK as paragons to which America should aspire.

Sen. Sanders’s “Medicare for All” proposal would effectively ban private insurance and force all Americans into a single, government-funded healthcare plan. According to Sen. Sanders, this new insurance scheme would cover everything from regular check-ups to prescription drugs and specialty care, no referral needed — all at no charge to patients.

Americans shouldn’t fall for these rosy promises. As Canadians know all too well, when the government foots the bill for healthcare, patients are the ones who pay the biggest price.

Most Californians support single-payer unless they have to pay for it

Maybe Californians really are tired of paying so much in taxes. But Sal Rodriquez found that according to a recent survey from the Public Policy Institute of California, 53 percent of likely voters support the idea of a single-payer health care system in California, but support falls to just 41 percent if single-payer would require new taxes, which it will.

About two-thirds of Democrats support the idea of a single-payer system even if it means higher taxes – because to be a Democrat in California is apparently to firmly believe that the inept government in Sacramento deserves more of everyone’s hard-earned money.

Only 11 percent of (very confused) Republicans 31 percent of independents share that view.

According to the survey, the Bay Area is the only region in the state where a majority of likely voters support a single-payer system even if it means higher taxes, but even then it’s just 55 percent of them. Majorities of likely voters in the Central Valley and Orange/San Diego Counties outright oppose a single-payer plan, and almost half (47 percent) of Inland Empire likely voters also oppose the idea.

It should be absolutely clear that a single-payer plan will necessarily entail higher taxes and there’s no way around it.

A California Senate Rules Committee analysis of SB562, a single-payer bill which remarkably passed the state Senate despite not actually offering an actual plan, noted that “about $200 billion in additional tax revenues would be needed to pay for the remainder of the total program cost.”

For context, total estimated general fund revenues for 2018-19 for state government is just over $140 billion.

So, yeah, single-payer will require enormous tax hikes. Considering that most Californians already believe they pay more in taxes than they should and that the state can barely manage everything it does now, single-payer is a fanciful idea that shouldn’t be seriously contemplated at this time.

Bernie Sanders: Starbucks CEO ‘dead wrong’ on government-run health care

Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner reported that outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been criticized by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., over his comments on a healthcare system fully funded by the government.  (Reuters)

Liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders says outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is “dead wrong” for saying that moving to a health care system fully funded by the government isn’t realistic.

The Vermont independent, who has been pressing for the U.S. to move toward socialized medicine, was asked to respond to comments Schultz made about the plan in another interview.

Schultz recently announced that he would be leaving Starbucks and said he was considering “public service.” He said on CNBC he was concerned about the way “so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders said Medicare-for-all is a “cost-effective” program.  (AP)

“And I ask myself, how are we going to pay for all these things? In terms of things like single-payer or people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job, I don’t think that’s realistic,” he said.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Sanders about the possibility of Schultz running as “the Left’s Trump” who may go up against the current president in 2020.

Sanders said he didn’t know Schultz but his comment was “dead wrong.”

“You have a guy who thinks that the United States apparently should remain the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders said. “The truth of the matter is that I think study after study has indicated that Medicare for All is a much more cost-effective approach toward health care than our current, dysfunctional health care system, which is far and away the most expensive system per capita than any system on Earth.”

I think the Bernie is a nut socialist but he may be correct in this situation. However, Medicare for All is also questionable and I can’t believe these candidates suggesting that they as governors can change a federal law or system. And also remember what free borders for illegal immigrants mean to a health care system. Who is going to pay for all those illegal immigrants needing health care? Be careful what you wish for!!

And finally on to the discussion of Medicare for All!!