The idea of a single payer health care system is not a new idea. Most of the rest of the developed world has some type of single payer system, and even here in the US, we have Medicare and Medicaid. But we also have a rather hodge podge mix of individual health insurance, employer-sponsored group plans, state high risk pools, and people without any health insurance at all. What started as a whisper back in the early days of the Clinton administration with a call for universal health care has become a roar. There is a huge demand for health care and health insurance to become more affordable commodities, and more equally provided across the population. David Williams at Health Business Blog has written an article about how the country is primed for a single payer system. Lay offs, foreclosures, and bankruptcies (both personal and corporate) are increasing at alarming rates, and health insurance is becoming more of a burden as the premiums rise and people lose their employer-sponsored health care (either because they lose their job, or because the employer stops offering coverage in an effort to cut costs). I agree with David that the demand for single payer health care is greater than ever. But I’m just not sure that the money will be there to enact any sweeping changes in the near future. I think that the new administration will probably take some early steps to strengthen SCHIP and negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. But I doubt that a true single payer health care system is in the immediate future for us. There are just too many other hands reaching for the government’s money at the moment. This fall the banking crisis sent shock waves around the globe and triggered a $700 billion bailout from the government – and now the auto industry wants some of that money too. I think that while lawmakers in a Democrat-led congress feel strongly that American health care is in serious need of a makeover, the money just isn’t there right now.
Here in Colorado, Cigna has just started offering individual health insurance policies, and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield has rolled out their new Smart Sense plan for individuals. I doubt that reputable carriers like Cigna and Anthem would be putting time and money into new plans if they sensed single payer health care just around the corner. I think that what we’ll see is a gradual progression towards a system that combines both government-sponsored and private health insurance. With Obama’s campaign promises regarding health insurance for children, I can envision a future government program much like Medicare for everyone under 18. That would take care of the young and the old, leaving us with 47 years in the middle to fend for ourselves.
Whatever happens, I do think that we’ll see more of a focus on health care once the new administration and congress convenes next year. I doubt that the government will be willing to tackle a true switch to single-payer health care on top of all the other irons they have in the fire. But time will tell.
Many thanks to Dr. Rob at Musings Of A Distractible Mind, who published Grand Rounds this week, where I found David’s article. Dr. Rob did a fantastic job of organizing the articles into a letter of advice for our new president – well worth the read, so go check it out.