With the inaguration only two or three weeks behind us, pundits and politicians are already urging us to take our eyes off the health care football while they "fix" the economy. Promises to enact a universal national health care plan, only a few months old, are being forgotten or openly taken back due to supposed "economic necessities". But an authoritative study by the California Nurses Organization details the economic impact of enacting single payer Medicare-For-All national health care: 2.6 million new jobs, $100 billion annually in the pockets of employees, $317 billion to employers and $44 billion in tax revenues to hard-pressed local governments. The choice between enacting health care and saving the economy may be a false one. Fixing health care may be the best medicine for the economy.
According to a study released January 14 by the California Nurses Association, adoptiing a single payer system of universal health care in the US would create 2.6 million new jobs, as many as the Bush economy destroyed in 2006, and boost the revenues of private employers by an annual $317 billion. A single payer health care system would put more than $100 billion in the pockets of employees and add $44 billion to state, local and federal budgets in badly needed tax revenues.
The CNA study details the economic benefits of healthcare to the overall economy, showing how changes in direct healthcare delivery affect all other significant sectors touched by healthcare, and how sweeping healthcare reform can help drive the nation's economic recovery.
"These dramatic new findings document for the first time that a single-payer system could not only solve our healthcare crisis, but also substantially contribute to putting America back to work and assisting the economic recovery," said Geri Jenkins, RN, co-president of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association, which sponsored the study.
The numbers of new jobs created by single payer health care alone dwarf anything yet proposed by the Obama administration or the “Buy America” add-ons to its stimulus bills, in addition to fulfilling the public expectation that Democrats enact a plan of universal and affordable health care for every American this year.
"Through direct and supplemental expenditures, healthcare is already a uniquely dominant force in the U.S. economy," said Don DeMoro, lead author of the study and director of the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy, the NNOC/CNA research arm.
"However, so much more is possible. If we were to expand our present Medicare system to cover all Americans, the economic stimulus alone would create an immense engine that would help drive our national economy for decades to come," DeMoro said.
Amid the hue and cry around the bailouts of Wall Street and the unfolding economic meltdown, discussion of universal health care promised by Democrats in the election just past appears to have taken a back seat. But the study demonstrates that the adoption of Medicare-For-All in the US may be a far more potent economic stimulus at a lower price than bailing out the greedheads of Wall Street.
Right now, the US spends roughly $2.1 trillion in direct medical expenses, with one third of this total going to private insurance companies. These are the funds which finance their executive bonuses, bad investments, advertising, and a vast machinery of bookkeeping, red tape and litigation to deny the coverage that policy holders have paid for. By comparison, Canada's single payer health care system delivers adequate care to everybody from cradle to grave and spends less than 5% on bookkeeping and other non-medical expenses.
Adding a mere $63 billion to what the US already spends would amply finance a Medicare-For-All plan in the regime in which more than 95% of health care expenditures would for the first time be applied to actual health care. Under such an arrangement, all US citizens would be covered, and glaring disparities in health outcomes between black, brown, red, and white America would be immediately and substantially reduced or eliminated,at a fraction of the cost of the Wall Street bailouts. The $63 billion is one sixth the cost of CitiGroup's no-strings-attached welfare check, and less than half the federal bailout for AIG. Expanding Medicare alone to cover the 47 million uninsured Americans (as of 2006 data on which the study is based) could be accomplished for just $44 billion.
While nobody can credibly explain the precise voodoo-like mechanisms by which the Wall Street bailouts are supposed to create jobs, the California Nurses Association study demonstrates how health care expenditures have immediate and long term beneficial effects on the economic life of the nation.
Overall, every direct healthcare dollar creates nearly three additional dollars in the U.S. economy. In current form, healthcare:
Generates 45 million jobs, directly and in other industries.
Accounts for 10.5 percent of all U.S. jobs and 12.1 percent of all U.S. wages.
Totals 9.2 percent of the nation's Gross National Product.
Contributes about 25 percent of all federal tax revenues. Federal, state, and local taxes from the healthcare sector in 2006 added up to $824 billion.
All those numbers would rise dramatically through comprehensive healthcare reform. But a single-payer system would produce the biggest increase in jobs and wages. The reason, DeMoro said, is that "the broadest economic benefits directly accrue from the actual delivery and provision of healthcare, not the purchase of insurance."
Medicare for all has numerous other benefits, of course, noted Jenkins, from a streamlined system with tens of billions less in private insurance administrative waste, guaranteed choice of physician and hospital, no loss of coverage when unemployed, and no one denied coverage due to age or health status.
"Only a single-payer, expanded Medicare-for-all approach ends the current disgraceful practice of insurance companies refusing to pay for medical treatment or engaging in rampant price gouging that discourages patients from going to the doctor, seeing specialists, or getting diagnostic procedures in a timely manner," said Jenkins.
In light of the apparent backtracking on national health care by Democrats including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) the study by the California Nurses Association is hugely important. It indicates that the choice between “solving” the nation's economic crisis and delivering a coherent, understandable, affordable and effective system of national health care may be a false choice after all. Those who urge us to take our eyes off the health care ball while they concentrate on “fixing” the economy may intend to do neither.
The California Nurses Association study goes a long way toward proving that universal single payer national health care may be the best medicine not only for our health care holes and disparities, but for the economy itself. Whether the politicians who ran just weeks ago promising a national health care plan will take the prescribed medicine depends on our insistence, our tenacity, and our refusal to be distracted. People deserve universal health care, and the 2.6 million jobs created by single payer health care are equal to the president's claims for the entire stimulus package. It's time to take the medicine.
Download, read, repost and pass along the full study here.
Bruce Dixon is based in Atlanta and can be reached at [email protected]