The US is often called a free market healthcare system. But Medicare and Medicaid are the biggest insurers, and the government pays for about half of all healthcare.
The private sector is getting the message, with some big players –like Humana—ignoring private customers altogether.
With large private insurers like Humana shifting focus to government-sponsored health programs, many Americans might be wondering if the US is headed toward a single-payer healthcare system. While this would be a dramatic shift (and perhaps an unlikely one), studies have shown that more Americans now favor a single government program to provide healthcare coverage.
In the CareTalk episode, “Will Uncle Sam Be the Only Customer in Healthcare?",
hosts, John Driscoll and David Williams explore what the implications of a single-payer healthcare system in the US would be.
What is a Single-Payer Healthcare System and Who is Using It?
A single-payer system of healthcare is one where a single organization (usually the government), is responsible for providing health insurance coverage to every individual in the country. This single source of coverage allows countries to more easily provide universal healthcare. Countries in Europe have long used single-payer systems as their governmental-sponsored health programs.
Notably, the United Kingdom and France have both employed single-payer healthcare systems, utilizing taxes collected from citizens to cover the costs of medical treatments and preventive care. Single-payer systems have been around for centuries, with many experts arguing it to be one of the most equitable solutions when it comes to providing quality healthcare.
The Pros and Cons of Single Payer Healthcare
Proponents of single-payer health care argue that it could save money by eliminating insurance company profits and administrative waste. It would also reduce paperwork associated with billing insurance companies, make individuals less vulnerable to changes in employers' health plans or loss of coverage due to job changes or layoffs, and potentially expand access to care by lowering out-of-pocket costs.
On the other hand, opponents worry that single-payer would lead to long wait times for treatments as seen in some other countries with universal coverage as well as decreased quality of care due to rationing.
Additionally, there are questions about how such a system would be funded and whether it would be better than our current hybrid model which combines public (Medicare) and private (employer sponsored) insurance programs.
“If you look at like an NHS where they've got centralized decision making, they've been underfunded and it's kind of falling on its face right now”. - John (CareTalk)
Why Are Some Private Insurers Focusing Government Sponsored Health Programs?
Private insurers like Humana are shifting focus from private health insurance policies to government sponsored health programs because they provide a more reliable source of income and reduce the risk associated with private healthcare.
Government programs offer private insurers the advantage of assured payments, improved access to healthcare providers, and more consistent regulatory guidelines than private policyholders. Consequently, private insurers have embraced government-sponsored health programs as a way to protect their financial interests while providing care for patients
How a Single-Payer Healthcare System Could Affect New Technology
A single-payer healthcare system could provide both advantages and drawbacks to the imminent introduction of costly, innovative medical technologies. On the plus side, a single-payer healthcare program could make it easier for patients to access cutting-edge treatments as funding would be centralized rather than dependent on individual insurance plans. As a result, high-tech products may become more widely utilized with fewer financial barriers.
On the other hand, single-payer arrangements have been associated with some forms of resource rationing that could infringe upon patient access to emerging technologies. Furthermore, single-payer systems may be vulnerable to bureaucratic decision-making that tends to favor well-established treatment options over potentially uncertain but surer long-term outcomes from arising innovations.
If The US Adopts a Single-Payer Healthcare System, Should the Government Own All Hospitals and Physician Practices?
If the government does take over all aspects of health care funding, should it also own all hospitals and physician practices? This is an important question because when government takes ownership of an industry it has more control over things like pricing. However, this type of centralized control could stifle innovation as corporate entities may be reluctant to invest in new technologies if they think they won’t have any say in how they are used or priced.
There is also concern that government ownership might lead to higher taxes since taxpayers would have to foot the bill for these services. Finally, the issue of doctors leaving their profession altogether needs to be considered. Many physicians may not want to work under a government run system where they have less autonomy than they currently enjoy in their practices.
What Can The US Learn From Other Countries Utilizing a Single-Payer Healthcare System?
One thing the US can learn from countries who have single-payer healthcare systems is that the transition process to move away from a more traditional healthcare system can be quite difficult. While single-payer healthcare has been successful in countries around the world, it also comes with its own set of negative consequences such as higher taxes, wait times for non-urgent care, and fewer choices for patients.
Despite these drawbacks, single-payer healthcare has been one of the few models to effectively reduce overall health costs while providing services to those who would not otherwise have access to adequate healthcare. The US is in a unique position to analyze both the positive and negative impacts of single-payer systems, and potentially make changes that will allow us to merge elements of single-payer with a traditional system in order to achieve better health outcomes at an affordable cost.
“Let's look at places where government is acknowledged as the only customer. What do we see in those health systems? Well, they tend to have universal access, which we don't have”. - David (CareTalk)
Will The Single-Payer System Seen Around The World Replace The Current Hybrid Healthcare System In The US?
The debate about transitioning from our current hybrid health care system into a single-payer is an involved and nuanced one that requires careful consideration and expert analysis to truly understand. As we continue to explore the implications of this type of system, it’s important to remember the impact it could have on our access to new medical technologies and research advances.
Furthermore, the decision concerning government ownership of hospitals and physician practices is yet another complicated issue that must be given considerable attention if the US implements a single-payer healthcare system.
Ultimately, this is an issue that affects us all - regardless of age, socioeconomic status or occupation - so it is essential for all stakeholders to be in agreement before any major changes are made. By understanding the implications of such a large undertaking, we can make more informed decisions regarding our healthcare system and ensure a healthier, more prosperous future for everyone.
CareTalk is the only healthcare podcast that tells it like it is. Join hosts John Driscoll (President U.S. Healthcare and EVP, Walgreens Boots Alliance) and David Williams (President, Health Business Group) as they provide an incisive, no B.S. view of the US healthcare industry.