Healthcare Must Treat People as People, Not Consumers

I am a proponent of "Medicare for All: Single Payer Universal Access to Care." As a grandparent and a retiree who spent 44 years working in the Minnesota public social service system, I’m convinced more than ever that we need a healthcare system that works for all people.

Our country has the most expensive healthcare system in the world when it comes to how much we pay for it out of our pockets in premiums, deductibles, co-pays and taxes. The unit cost at clinics and hospitals is driven up by all the red tape, the cost of caring for folks in emergency rooms (ER) who don't have coverage, and the profit-driven, corporate system.

At the same time, we have one of the worst records for healthcare outcomes of any developed country in the world. People with money get healthcare—some pretty fancy, high-level healthcare. Some, at the bottom of the economic ladder, get little except after illness has gone so far that they need the ER. Many in this country are in the middle and can't afford care even though they may have insurance.

The last I heard medical bills were the main cause of bankruptcy filings. I suggest we have this “high cost and lousy results” system because of two major things about our country: First, we think medical care is a commodity and that you and I are consumers. Second, we do not have a sense of shared responsibility for the health and welfare of our fellow citizens. We do not believe that access to healthcare should be a right — rather it is considered a privilege. In other countries, the majority of people believe it is the right thing to do to provide universal access to healthcare.

I believe we need to create a “Medicare for All” system of healthcare coverage: a simple system without all the complexity, red tape and administrative costs, taking the whole concept of profit out of the picture. Profit and executive pay have become more important to those in power than access and affordability. The failed experiment with insurance companies treating healthcare as a commodity and us as consumers needs to end. Single payer is a simple system that will provide access for all and save money, making healthcare more affordable.

Why is it important for the Land Stewardship Project to work towards a “Medicare for All” healthcare system? Many members who are farmers or self-employed, small business owners in rural Minnesota are struggling to pay the ever-increasing costs of health insurance and medical care. They cannot afford the individual policies available in the commercial insurance marketplace. Farmers are being forced to take off-farm jobs and it is difficult for the next generation to get started farming.

Minnesota has taken great strides to improve access and affordability through the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicaid services and improving MinnesotaCare. But it is not enough. I testified at the Health Care Financing Task Force meeting in Rochester, Minn., on Oct. 23. Some of the solutions proposed by the Task Force, such as value-based purchasing and accountable care organizations, appear to me to make the system more complicated and more expensive. So much of what the current experts and politicians are debating and studying is unnecessary. This is why I am calling for a major overhaul of our healthcare system — eliminating the red tape and the central role of the profit-making corporations.

We need a vision for what we want our healthcare system to look like in the future. Healthcare needs to be treated as a right in this country, like it is in most of the advanced countries on Earth. I dream of a system where my grandchildren can get the care they need and won’t be blocked by all the complex paperwork and other barriers that get between my doctor and me.

Craig Brooks is a member of LSP's Healthcare Organizing Committee. He is a retired public human services worker, currently living across the border in Wisconsin. He spent 44 years working in Minnesota's human service system—seven years in Pine County, four years at the state agency and 33 years as the human services director in Winona County. For more on LSP's Affordable Healthcare for All work, click here.