t’s no secret that the healthcare system is sick. To maximize profits and shareholder confidence, insurance companies, healthcare providers and drug companies have manipulated the system beyond comprehension. As healthcare costs rise at double-digit rates, fewer and fewer manufacturers and small businesses can offer comprehensive coverage to their employees. General Motors recently admitted it spends more on healthcare than on steel; Starbucks spends more on health insurance than on coffee. And those problems do not even begin to speak to the needs of the uninsured–all 46 million of them, including 9 million children.
Thankfully, the cure is not nearly as complicated as the disease. There is a road map laid out for us: a program that already delivers universal healthcare to nearly 42 million Americans. And it is simple: Workers pay into the system while they’re young, and when they turn 65 the government pays their health insurance.
The program, of course, is Medicare. Medicare has lower administrative costs than any private plan on the market. It enjoys one of the highest approval ratings of any government program. But the most important reason Medicare is the best model for an expansion of healthcare benefits is that the program focuses on patients, not profits.
Healthcare gets complicated when it’s built around profits rather than care. With patient-first simplicity in mind, I have introduced two proposals to deliver quality, affordable healthcare to every American. First is MediKids, a plan to provide universal coverage to children from birth to age 23. Children would be automatically enrolled at birth, with parents having the choice to opt out of the program by enrolling their children in private plans or in other government programs. But if a lapse in other insurance coverage were to occur, MediKids would automatically pick up the child’s health insurance. Simple.
So is the Medicare Early Access Act. This measure would allow people to buy into Medicare once they turn 55–providing essential help to the 4 million uninsured Americans over age 54 who are not currently eligible. To make their premiums affordable, enrollees would receive a tax credit to cover 75 percent of the cost.
These proposals are only a beginning. With Medicare as a model, we can fill the growing gaps in health coverage and ultimately weave together a stable, comprehensive, affordable system for Americans of all ages. Medicare has shown us the power of simplicity; we need only expand its promise to the rest of our population.