Health Professional Students are Mobilizing for Single Payer Health Care

The most exciting part of the movement for healthcare justice is coming from students who understand we need a national health program that covers every person in the United States. I saw this last night when I spoke to a large group of health professional students at Johns Hopkins University. It was the first meeting of a local chapter of Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP).

My talk was on “Single Payer 101” and I was joined by Dr. Eric Naumburg, MD of Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland. Dr. Naumburg, like me, is a pediatrician. After my talk we had an excellent conversation with medical and nursing students who brought up great topics that showed they have thought about the injustice of the current healthcare system in the United States. The students recognized that a single payer system, or ‘Improved Medicare for All,’ is the solution needed to solve the US healthcare crisis.

SNaHP was founded in 2012 at the National Physicians for a National Health Program conference in Chicago by medical students concerned about the direction their profession is heading in the United States’ largely for-profit healthcare system. Next month, SNaHP will hold its fifth annual SNaHP Conference organized entirely by and for students.

Students in SNaHP do more than talk. They are joining the legacy of health professionals who understand that the responsibility to patients doesn’t stop at the office door. SNaHP students joined the “White Coats for Black Lives” nationwide actions on Human Rights Day in December, 2014 and organized a national day of action in October, 2015 to highlight the deficiencies of the Affordable Care Act and the necessity of creating a national improved Medicare for all health insurance. Their conference in March is titled “New Frontiers in the Civil Rights Movement”.

As a physician, seeing the SNaHPchapters gives me hope that health professionals will take the necessary actions to create the political environment necessary to take on the medical industrial complex and demand a healthcare system that places health as the bottom line. Just as communities are standing up to the fossil fuel and nuclear energy giants to demand an end to dirty energy and a rapid transition to clean renewable energy, communities will need to come together to oppose the investor-owned health care giants and demand a rapid transition to single payer health care.

This transition is particularly important for cities such as Baltimore where there are wide disparities in wealth and health outcomes. An improved Medicare for all system instantly covers everyone with access to a single standard of high quality health care. Everybody is automatically enrolled without having to navigate confusing insurance exchanges. And there are no upfront out-of-pocket costs like the current co-pays that force people to delay or avoid necessary care. In the United States, people self-ration care based on their ability to pay, and this is the cruelest form of rationing.

An improved Medicare for all is paid for through progressive taxes which save most people money through the elimination of insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays. And improved Medicare for all ends medical debt and bankruptcy due to medical bills. In fact, improved Medicare for all would stimulate the economy from the bottom up by relieving debt and increasing the amount of money that families have in their pockets to pay for basic necessities. No more having to choose between buying food and paying health insurance premiums. It would also create millions of new jobs for healthcare providers.

And improved Medicare for all ends health disparities. In the US, and especially in Baltimore, black people have worse health outcomes and die younger than whites. A recent study shows that this disparity is ended in a single payer health system. It found that for patients treated in the Veterans Administration system, outcomes are relatively equal (in fact, the black population had better outcomes than whites for strokes and heart attacks). Similar decreases in health disparities have been found for people who live long enough to enroll in Medicare.

Lastly, improved Medicare for all allows health professionals to be healers who can focus on what is best for patients, instead of fighting health insurance corporations that prioritize the profits of their investors over the health of their enrollees. Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, an increasing number of physicians, now more than half of them, are reporting symptoms of burnout. This burnout hurts the quality of care provided.

I look forward to working with students, young health professionals and all who advocate for single payer to finally force the transition to a health system that makes health the number one goal. It has been accomplished in every other industrialized nation. It’s time we join the world of civilized health care.

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