Single-Payer: Answers and Facts About Health Care For All

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What Is Single-Payer?

Single-payer is basically a way some countries use to provide its citizens with health insurance. (Sounds very boring, I know. But keep reading!) Its name comes from the fact that doctors and hospitals are paid by one organization: a single payer. By having only one payer, you can simplify the health care system enormously.

Single-payer saves lives.

In a single-payer health system, everyone has health insurance. According to the Institute of Medicine, 18,000 people in the United States die every year from a lack of health insurance--that's two people every hour. The US also has higher infant mortality levels(more children under 1 year of age die) compared to most other democratic companies. Babies would be healthier if all pregnant women could get access to a doctor while they're pregnant. Or think of how much less-crowded emergency rooms would be if people could see a primary care doctor when they were sick, instead of only going to an ER when they become sicker.

Single-payer saves time.

Imagine if all doctors and all hospitals in the US had just one type of form to fill out. And all patients had one insurance card. And all patients had health insurance by virtue of being US citizens. And now think of the savings in time, money, paper-pushing. Doctors would have more time to care for patients; everyone would have fewer headaches waiting to talk to their HMO to prove their coverage; nurses would be less frustrated with their work.

Single-payer saves money.

By having one organization handle all of the bureaucracy and all of the administration of the health care system (mostly consisting of paperwork and payments) paper-pushing greatly decreases in frequency and cost. More of each of our dollars that go toward health care would actually be used to care for people's health, instead of going toward managers and forms. Single-payer eliminates the bulk of paperwork duplication, and in the process, could potentially save hundreds of BILLIONS (that's 100,000 million) of dollars. As it is right now, American businesses are at an economic disadvantage, because their health costs are so much higher than in other countries. The Canadian branches of Ford, GM, and Daimler-Chrysler all publicly support Canada's health care system, because it saves them an enormous amount of money, compared to their counterparts in the US.

What's more, a single-payer system would mean fewer personal bankruptcies due to medical bills--and an end to patients actually receiving bills. In most countries with a single-payer system, patients never see a bill. The billing process doesn't even involve patients. (This saves money, too--think of how much work goes into itemizing each bill, sending it to each patient, following up on the bill if there's been an error... and on, and on.)

Most single-payer systems save a ton of money by buying prescription drugs for its patients in huge bulk quantities. You know the money you save for buying in bulk at Costco or Sam's Club? Think of applying that concept to buying prescription drugs for America's 290 million people. (Hint: this is what Canada does--it's what makes their drugs much cheaper.)

Single-payer saves choice.

Americans love choices. We love having options. With a single-payer system, patients could go to any doctor they wanted (try doing that with your HMO!). You could see the doctor that's closest to you, the one that your friends all recommend, or pick one that's your same religion, ethnicity, or race. It'd be a much different experience than getting a specific list from your HMO, telling you who you're allowed to see, if you don't want to pay an arm and a leg for it.

Even better, people wouldn't be tied to their current job for the health insurance it provides. People could find jobs they're happier with or even consider starting their own businesses. It would make employers work harder to make employees happy, and employers could be more confident their workers were a good fit for their jobs.

Next: What isn't single-payer?