Statement: Single Payer Meeting

WASHINGTON, July 3 – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate health committee, made the following statement following a meeting he arranged between single-payer health care advocates and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.):

“Let’s be clear. Every American understands that the United States is in the midst of a major health care crisis.  Forty-six million Americans have no health insurance and, importantly, even more are underinsured with high deductibles and co-payments which often make it difficult for them to get the medical care they need.  Further, some 60 million Americans, including many with insurance, do not have access to a medical home of their own.  In fact, according to the Institute of Medicine, some 18 thousand Americans die each year from preventable illnesses because they lack health insurance.  Access to dental care is even worse and we pay, by far, the highest prices in the industrialized world for prescription drugs.

“In the midst of all of this, the U.S. spends far more for health care per person than any other country on earth – and health care costs continue to soar.  And yet, despite the enormous sum of money we spend, our health care outcomes lag behind many other countries in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality and other health indices.   

“The cost of health care, which is now 16 percent of our GNP, continues to soar at a rate that is unsustainable.  This is not only a personal issue for individuals and families in terms of whether or not they can afford health care, but it is also a major economic problem for our country.  General Motors spends more on health care per automobile than they do on steel.  Small business owners are finding it harder and harder not only to provide decent health care coverage for their workers but, in many instances, they are unable to provide health insurance for themselves. 

“The major reason that our current health care system is so expensive has much to do with the role that private insurance companies play. The function of a private health insurance company is not to provide health care; it is to deny health care.  Every dollar of premium that a health insurance company does not spend on health care needs is a dollar more in profits.

“Further, in pursuit of making as much money as they can, private health insurance companies have created a patchwork system which is the most complicated, bureaucratic and wasteful in the world. Today we are wasting almost $400 billion a year in administrative costs, in profiteering, and in bureaucratic billing practices – enough to provide health care to all our uninsured.

“Administrative costs for insurers, employers and the providers of health care in the United States are about one out of every four health care dollars that we spend. In California, only 66 percent of total insurance premiums are used to cover hospital and physician services. One-third is spent on administration, billing, claims processing, sales and marketing, finance and underwriting.

“The American people want their health care dollars spent on health care, not profiteering, not dividends. While health care costs in America have soared from 2003 to 2007, the combined profits of the nation’s major health insurance companies increased by 170 percent. And CEO compensation for the top seven health insurance companies averaged $14.2 million.

“To add insult to injury, some of these health care profits are going directly into campaign contributions and lobbying to make sure that Congress does not move toward real health care reform, which, in my view, is a single-payer, state-administered system.

“In recent years, the health care industry – including the drug companies and medical equipment suppliers – have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying.”