November 4, 2009

Single-payer, not-for-profit health care system

Dennis Kucinich, Ohio, July 31, 2009:

Mr. Speaker, I've listened to the health care debate, as all Members have, for the last few months. And what's very interesting about it is that in this debate, we've essentially talked past the single most effective way to reduce costs and to provide health care for all Americans, and that is to create a single-payer, universal not-for-profit health care system.

Such a system is envisioned in and provided for in H.R. 676, Medicare for All, a bill that I had the privilege of writing with John Conyers of Michigan, a bill that is supported by 85 Members of Congress, by hundreds of community organizations and labor unions, by over 14,000 physicians, and a bill which represents an idea whose time has come.

Some basic facts require discussion when we're speaking about our health care system. And that is that we spend about $2.4 trillion on health care in America, all spending. That amounts to about 16 to 17 percent of our gross domestic product. Clearly health care is a huge item in the American economy.

If all of that money, all of that $2.4 trillion went to care for people, every American would be covered. But today, not every American is covered. As a matter of fact, there are 50 million Americans without health insurance and another 50 million underinsured. Why is it in this country which has so much wealth in this country, which has given so much of its wealth to people at the top, we can have 50 million Americans without insurance? By and large, it's because people cannot afford private insurance.

Why not? Well, it's very simple. When you look at the fact that an individual can pay $300 to $600 a month or more for a premium, when you look at the fact that a family can pay $1,000, $2,000 a month or more for a health care premium, when you consider that a family budget cannot in any way countenance the kind of health care expenses that most families can run into, when you understand that any family can lose its middle class status with a single illness in that family, you come to understand the dilemma that we have in America.

Why isn't health care a basic right in a democratic society? Why do we have a for-profit health care system? I will tell you why. Because out of that $2.4 trillion that is spent every year in health spending, $1 out of $3, or $800 billion a year, goes to the activities of the for-profit system for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, the cost of paperwork; 15 to 30 percent in the private sector as compared to Medicare's 3 percent.

This is what this fight is about in Washington. This is why the insurance industry is hovering around Washington like a flock of vultures. $800 billion a year is at stake. And so they will do anything that they can to be part of this game so that the government can continue to subsidize insurance companies one way or another.

One out of every $3 goes for the activities of the for-profit system. If we took that $800 billion a year and put it into care for everyone, we'd have enough money to cover every American. Not just basic health care, with doctor of choice, but dental care, mental health care, vision care, prescription drugs, long-term care, all would be covered. Everything.

People say how is that possible? It's because we're already paying for the universal standard of care. We're just not getting it.