Nurses, who face the issues within the current healthcare system in the US daily, are rallying behind the proposed Medicare for All Act. The Act addresses the challenges of the increasingly for-profit health care system, and estimates are that it will bring about huge cost-savings. At the same time, it will pave the way for universal health coverage for all Americans.
Although the total spending on healthcare in the US is the highest in the developed world, health outcomes statistics show that it isn’t providing effective or efficient health care. Furthermore, a large number of citizens cannot afford the health care they need.
Currently, nearly 30 million Americans are uninsured and 40 million or more are underinsured. Many cannot afford the costs of copayments and deductibles on essential health care or experience medical bankruptcy when they can’t pay their bills after serious acute or chronic health problems.
The Medicare for All Act (HR 1384) was introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep Pramila Jayapal in February this year. The Act aims to establish a national health insurance program that will improve on the current Affordable Care Act, which has provided for neither better quality care nor reduced costs. In April, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the Medicare for All Act (HS 1129) in the Senate with emphasis on a universal single-payer program.
National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union of registered nurses which represents over 150,000 health care professionals, has come out in strong support of the proposed Medicare for All Act. When it was first introduced, Bonnie Castillo, CEO of NNU, said that it would save patients lives. “It’s the right bill, at the right moment – and now we are organizing an unprecedented grassroots movement to demand that our elected officials support this legislation,” Castillo said.
Jean Ross, President of NNU, was invited to give expert testimony in support of the Act during the legislative hearing, entitled “Proposals to achieve universal health coverage”, which was held by the Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In her testimony, Ross emphasized that nurses were witness to the failures in the healthcare system every single day. “I have watched as patients refuse the medications, procedures, and care they need because they cannot afford the costs of their copays or deductibles,” Ross explained. “I have watched as insurance corporations refuse to cover the care that is required for the health and wellbeing of my patients. I’ve seen hundreds of patients who show up in the emergency room because they cannot afford the costs of preventive care, both those with and without insurance coverage.”
Ross then went on to illustrate each of these points with touching real-life examples from her own experiences as a nurse and a mother. She pointed out that the priorities today were profits and cost savings, rather than providing comprehensive health care to US citizens. Furthermore, billions were being wasted on unnecessary administrative costs, corporate profits, and inefficiency.
Care should be directed by the professional judgment of health care providers rather than the financial concerns of insurance companies. “People should be able to focus on their health, and not worry about their bank accounts,” Ross said.
The program suggested by the proposed legislation would be single-payer national health insurance funded by the current sources of public funding with modest new taxes but still provided largely by the private sector. All US residents would be covered for essential medical services, including preventive and long-term care, mental health, dental, vision and prescription drug costs.
Nurses can support this legislation by joining allied public and professional organizations; discussing it with colleagues, friends; highlighting it on public platforms and in social media; and lobbying their local political representatives. The Activist Starter Kit of the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) provides practical how-to information on how you can take action.