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James Binder, M.D.: We need single-payer health care

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every human being has a right to competent health care. Claiming health care to be a basic human right is a principle derived from 2,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition (as well as core values of all major world religions). The measure of any society, according to Jesus, is the manner in which the outcasts (the poor, the lepers, the prisoners, the mentally ill) are treated. A humane society is committed to the relief of suffering of all its citizens.

So, how do we in the United States stack up against this standard? We fail. Tens of millions of poor and disadvantaged people are excluded from healthcare altogether. The rest of the poor are treated in an underfunded program (Medicaid). In addition, fewer than half of patients with emotional and mental conditions receive appropriate care. This is in no small part due to efforts of many private insurers to exclude adequate mental health treatment from their health plans.

Placing barriers in the way of reasonable mental health treatment is both shortsighted and dangerous. Each year, 30,000 people in the United States die by suicide. Accessible and effective treatment of depression and other mental health conditions could prevent a number of those deaths.

What is so sad about this unnecessary suffering is that we have a simple way to provide equitable health care. With a single-payer national health program, no distinction or judgment would be made between people or between physical and mental conditions. We would all receive the same comprehensive care, whether or not we were employed or unemployed, or had a chronic illness, or were morbidly obese, or were suffering from mental illness. Proponents of a single-payer system hold an unshakable belief that collaboration among human beings works much better to relieve suffering and promote positive health outcomes than a competitive profit-driven approach.

We already spend enough money on health care to include everyone and provide comprehensive care. However, much of that money is wasted on exorbitant CEO salaries, unnecessary bureaucracies that routinely deny medical care, and advertisements for insurance companies and nonessential drugs. Let's put that money into patient care with single-payer universal insurance. A single-payer system, unlike our current fragmented, multi-insurance system, would allow establishment of global budgeting. Global budgeting, which is how our police and fire departments, public schools and libraries are paid, would allow control of excessive spending on health care.

For a discussion of single payer and how it would work, as well as for better understanding of the Affordable Care Act, please join us at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Charleston. Participating in the discussion will be Andy Coates, M.D., president of Physicians for a National Health Program; and Perry Bryant, founder and executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

Binder is a pediatrician at Cabin Creek Health Systems.


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