Government or corporate run healthcare?

National Nurses United take over San Francisco’s Market Street to march for Medicare for All on Nov. 2, 2019. – Photo: National Nurses United, flickr

by Barry Hermanson

“Every year, Medicare’s open enrollment period is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.” Even if you are not eligible to receive Medicare, I hope you will read a little further.

“Medicare health and drug plans can make changes each year – things like cost, coverage, and what providers and pharmacies are in their networks. October 15 to December 7 is when all people with Medicare can change their Medicare health plans and prescription drug coverage for the following year to better meet their needs,” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ official website: https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Reach-Out/Find-tools-to-help-you-help-others/Medicare-Open-Enrollment.html

Corporate run health and drug plans can change every year, even under Medicare. And, if an insurer decides to leave a market, you will lose your coverage. To understand which is the best plan often requires hours of comparing contracts, charts, tables and making guesses about your healthcare needs in the future. More coverage costs more, but are you ever truly covered? Is there fine print you may have missed or an exception you didn’t think about?

I’ve been receiving my healthcare though Medicare for almost four years. Before then, I was never confident of being covered, even as I wrote checks to pay for private insurance every month. When I turned 65, I thought of no longer being forced to buy insurance products where they would take my money and then refuse service. Co-pays, deductibles and out-of-network charges might end. I was wrong.

For my 65th year, I joined a Medicare “Advantage” plan, not fully realizing that it is corporate insurance replacing traditional Medicare. In addition to the premiums, co-pays and deductibles for services, I learned later that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) pays “Advantage” plans more than $1,000 per month for each member. Since my medical expenses are no more than a few hundred dollars each year, most, if not all of the $12,000 they received was pure profit, deducted from the public insurance pool that is Medicare.

As an advocate for an Improved Medicare for All, I prefer traditional Medicare where 80% of most of my medical needs are covered. With an Improved version, nearly 100 percent would be covered. Until we enjoy that victory, the remaining 20 percent of my medical bills must be covered by paying out of pocket or by purchasing private corporate Medigap insurance. When I left my “Advantage” plan, CMS advised me that I must purchase a corporate drug plan or face a penalty if I choose to enroll in one later.

On Oct. 18-20, Healthcare-Now! hosted a national single payer strategy conference in Portland, Oregon. More than 350 activists representing millions of voters from all around the country attended. It was a great conference. I left energized – with nine pages of notes!

One of the workshops was titled: “Know Your Enemy: Opposition Research.” Ben Palmquist, representing NESRI (National Economic & Social Rights Initiative), was the speaker. He asked: “Which would you prefer? Government or corporate, for-profit healthcare?”

Opponents of an Improved Medicare for All spend a lot to convince us the government can’t be trusted to run anything. Corporate news doesn’t spend much time covering corporate, for-profit healthcare costs. The costs are greater and we receive less healthcare.

Those who profit off illness are very powerful in the U.S. Kaiser is a non-profit that earns massive sums and is also a major opponent of an Improved Medicare for All. More than $10,700 is the yearly cost per person in the U.S. for healthcare.

That is, on average, double the amount spent in the other 35 member countries of OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). They also enjoy better healthcare.

It is time we look to other countries, learn from and adopt their best practices. In order to do that, a lot of politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, must stop taking contributions from corporate, for-profit healthcare.

California Democrats, when running for office, talk about how much they support an Improved Medicare for All. Gov. Newsom made it a key part of his campaign platform. My representatives in Sacramento all stated before they were elected, healthcare reform is a high priority. “It is a very personal issue.” I didn’t enjoy learning that, apparently, it isn’t.

“Those who profit off illness are very powerful in the U.S.”

A bit of history. Single payer universal healthcare legislation passed the California State Assembly and Senate multiple times when we had a Republican governor who would veto it. When Democrat Jerry Brown was elected, many Democratic legislators became less supportive.

Last year, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, wrote a bill that was signed by the governor to create a committee to look at healthcare delivery in California. The committee received funding of $5 million. A year later, committee members have yet to be appointed, the first scheduled meeting was supposed to be two months ago. I asked Phil Ting recently, what is going on with the committee? He said: “I don’t know.”

There is no talk in Sacramento about an Improved Medicare for All Californians. It isn’t a priority. This a core issue as I become a candidate for California State Senate, District 11, in San Francisco, on the March 3 primary election ballot. There must be a voice in Sacramento for an Improved Medicare for All.

Barry Hermanson, Green Party candidate for California State Senate, District D-11, San Francisco, can be reached at Barry@BarryHermanson.org or 415-255-9494. Please contact me if you would like to help in this campaign.