In the past week I saw two things that I found amazing. The first was U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ participation in a Fox News town hall as part of his campaign for president. Amazing not because the Democrats have boycotted Fox News but because when it was asked who in the audience would be willing to transition from employer-sponsored health insurance to a form of “Medicare for All,” the crowd went wild in agreement. As the senator pointed out, there are many problems with employer-sponsored health insurance. You can get fired or laid off; your employer can go out of business; or you may actually have an ERISA plan that is subject to the total control of the employer. The enthusiasm of the crowd was unexpected, to say the least.
The second thing I found amazing was an article citing UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann as saying that the insurer — Minnesota’s largest company — “favors universal coverage through the expansion of existing private and public programs.” Wichmann “criticized the prospect of a government-led single-payer system, sometimes called Medicare for All, that would effectively eliminate private health insurers like UnitedHealthcare.” (“UnitedHealth sounds alarm on single-payer system,” April 17.)
Does Mr. Wichmann fail to see that Medicare is, in fact, a government-led public program that heavily relies on private insurance and that its expansion to coverage for all would create the opportunity for his company to sell Medicare Advantage products and supplemental coverage products to the entire country, which would make his company even more successful and more profitable? Assuming, of course, that the products met with network adequacy requirements, covered a basic range of services and were competitively priced. Also, they would have to be transparent and accountable.
The far left doesn’t like the Sanders proposal because it doesn’t give everyone everything for free. The numbers for that just don’t work. UnitedHealth and others don’t want meaningful government involvement in “private insurance,” which treats health care as a commodity and is a free market, Wild-West approach to an essential human need. We’ve tried that, and it’s costly, unfair and unsustainable.
I don’t begrudge Wichmann his compensation. I’m sure he is a great corporate leader and, I trust, an innovator. I’m not a communist or a socialist. I’m just weary of seeing people pay exorbitant insurance premiums for the “illusion of insurance coverage,” and I believe that there is a possible solution to our health care system dilemma if only we have the willingness to examine the problem through a different lens. Medicare for All, consisting of various age- and income-adjusted products, be they Advantage or supplement types, available to all and competing with other market-based products, would be worth a look if only we were not so myopic. As Abraham Maslow said, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
David Feinwachs, of St. Paul, is a health care lawyer and lobbyist.