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What is Single Payer? – Put People First! PA

An interview with Mark Dudzic of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare

What’s an easy way to define “single-payer” health care that everyone can understand?

When you ask the American people what kind of health care system they deserve, most will agree that healthcare should be treated as a public good like firefighting, libraries and schools, not as a for-profit business.  They want seamless, cradle to grave coverage as a birthright for everyone in America.  They want no financial barriers to care and a single standard of quality healthcare for everyone in America.  Every nation in the world that has achieved those standards has done so through some form of a single-payer system.  It would work pretty much like Medicare works for Americans over 65.  Everyone is eligible.  The government collects the revenues through an equitable and progressive financing arrangement and pays all the bills.  You are free to choose your own health care providers and you and your providers make all the decisions regarding your care.

How would a single-payer system be paid for?  What is your response when people say that there is “not enough money” to implement such a system?

The U.S. spends almost twice as much as any other industrialized country in the world for a healthcare system with substandard outcomes.  Studies have shown that 25-30% of all healthcare expenditures are wasted on inefficient administrative overhead.  We can cover everyone with no financial barriers to care at less than what we are currently paying for our profit-driven healthcare system. A publicly financed single-payer system would equitably allocate costs based on ability to pay.  Those who make more, would pay more through progressive taxation.  All employers  would pay their fair share through payroll taxes. No one would be denied care because of inability to pay.

What does “Healthcare is a human right” mean to you?

In a society capable of providing healthcare for all, no human being should be denied full access to needed healthcare.  To do otherwise is a violation of morality and any society that deliberately does not recognize this right should be considered outside the pale of civilized societies.

Why is single-payer a better way of meeting our human right to healthcare than the system we currently have? What makes you passionate about this issue?

The current healthcare system is built around for-profit insurance companies who make their profits by denying healthcare to people.  This is a toxic business model that must be eliminated before healthcare can be treated as a human right.  I am passionate about this issue because the right to healthcare is so essential for the security of working class families and because the fight for healthcare justice is a central component in the fight against inequality.

Is a “single payer” healthcare system necessarily universal? If not, what would make it so?

The slogan of most single payer advocates is “everybody in, nobody out”.  Any healthcare system that deliberately excludes any part of a population violates the fundamental principles of public health.  That said, there have been attempts to limit access under some legislative proposals for single-payer reforms.  Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to exclusion because they are perceived as powerless and are frequently scapegoated by political demagogs.  We need to be on constant guard against any tendency that would deny this fundamental human right to any human being.

What are the most common myths about single payer?

Probably the biggest myth is that single-payer systems provide inferior care with long waits for services.  These myths are proven false by the facts–single-payer systems like France are consistently considered to be the best healthcare systems in the world–but they constantly re-emerge because the defenders of corporate healthcare constantly prey on Americans’ fears that we will lose what we have.  The best way to combat this kind of fear-mongering is through one-to-one human interaction.  My union organized several bus trips to Canada so our members could experience the Canadian single-payer system firsthand.  Once they had an opportunity to walk through a hospital and clinics and, especially, speak to Canadian patients who are fiercely proud of their national healthcare system, they were able to see through the lies and came back to their workplaces and communities with personal stories to tell about the real benefits of a single-payer system.

What do you think it will take to build enough power to implement a universal, single payer system in PA?

To implement a universal, single-payer system in Pennsylvania, we will have to defeat the concentrated corporate power that has a stranglehold over the political process.  To do so, we need to build a powerful social movement that can hold politicians accountable in every community in the state.

What inspires you about healthcare organizing and/or systems in the US or in other countries?

Organizing for healthcare justice truly unites the 99% against the 1%.  It opens the door for people to envision a better world that is responsive to the needs and concerns of working people and builds the kind of unity that will help bring that world into being.

How did you find out about Put People First! PA and what do you think about us?

I first heard about Put People First! PA from my healthcare is a human right colleagues in Vermont and Maryland who are engaged in similar campaigns.  The task of establishing healthcare as a human right in Pennsylvania is formidable and will require massive resources and an army of activists, but Put People First! is developing the tools and experience to do just that.  I have great hopes for your efforts and will work to convince the Pennsylvania union movement to support and participate in this historic fight.

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