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Opinion: Let’s stop choosing between buying food or healthcare. The urgent need for Medicare-for-all

According to a recent Colorado Health Institute report for the Colorado Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging, over half a million Coloradans serve as unpaid caregivers for individuals over the age of 50. 

Many of these caregivers simultaneously work for hard-earned paychecks in jobs outside of their caregiving responsibilities. However, caregiving often has a negative impact on caregivers’ wallets as they sacrifice career opportunities on behalf of caregiving. 

A preponderance (60%) of caregivers makes some work-related alteration due to caregiving; 10% cut their hours from full to part-time.

Jessica King McLaughlin

With this reduction in working status, many caregivers lose access to their much-prized (and expensive) health insurance benefits. 

On the converse side of this issue, many overburdened caregivers are unable to cut down their working hours to better accommodate their caregiving duties because they cannot afford to lose their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. These caregivers are thus caught in a liminal stage of what many refer to as “job lock.” 

However, this does not have to be the case. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was created in part to help resolve job-lock-related issues, but the ACA has not fully remedied the problem.

Health insurance is still too expensive for many who don’t qualify for Medicaid. Even for those with insurance, many plans have hefty deductibles and co-pays and simply do not cover enough. A more expansive healthcare plan is needed.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Enter: Medicare-for-All, a government-sponsored single-payer health insurance plan that would reinvent American healthcare.

The idea of a single-payer insurance, which would cover everyone in the United States with comprehensive coverage that has virtually no out-of-pocket costs for consumers, is gaining steady and strong traction among many — most notably, multiple current and past Democratic presidential candidates (e.g. Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, to name just a few).  

Single-payer, broad-coverage health insurance has been a long time coming. As the number of older adults continues to grow, so does the need for dedicated informal caregivers, who are, on average, 15 years too young to qualify for Medicare. 

Colorado’s working caregivers deserve to have more flexibility in their jobs and their lives without having to worry about their health insurance benefits. 

The primary GOP-led criticism of Medicare-for-All is its significant expense. As the government would be the sole healthcare payor, the onus for all medical bills would sit squarely on Uncle Sam’s shoulders. 

The funding would come from increased taxes on workers in the U.S., much like current Medicare funding. For those who decry “big government” meddling, the concept of higher taxes is blasphemous. 

But before Republicans go around shaking their fists, they should take a long, hard look at the numbers. Current healthcare spending in the U.S. is the highest among all other similarly industrialized countries — $3.3 trillion in 2016, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 

This suggests that healthcare spending over the next 10 years is estimated to be about $33 trillion, which is not inclusive of the projected 5.5% annual increase in healthcare costs that occur each year, per Diane Archer, who writes for The Washington Post

In reality, the government may end up paying less in medical bills over the next 10 years under Medicare-for-All than we are currently spending on our national healthcare expenditures.

Even Libertarians admit in a July 2018 working paper written by Charles Blahous from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, healthcare costs over the next 10 years would be about $32.6 trillion, which is nearly half a trillion dollars less than projections of spending if we stayed the current health insurance course. 

Administrative costs would be slashed, as insurance marketing and advertising would no longer be necessary. The necessity of “bargaining” for healthcare prices would be removed; hospitals, providers, and pharmaceutical companies would either have to accept the prices the government is willing to pay or not get paid at all. 

Best of all, the health of Coloradans would improve; lack of insurance would no longer be an excuse for not getting ailments checked out. Even with higher taxes, we would all end up with more money in our pockets. 

Coloradans would no longer have to choose between paying for healthcare or for food. We could live our lives, take care of our loved ones, and most of all, ourselves. Medicare-for-All is a proposed idea that needs to become a reality. For the health of all of us. 

Jessica King McLaughlin, MSW, LCSW is a third-year PhD student at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Her research is focused on informal caregivers and policy reform. Follow her on Twitter: @jkingmclaughlin