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March 11, 2014

Testimony by International Experts Underscores Benefits of Single-Payer Health Care Systems

At Congressional Hearing, Experts Provide Further Evidence the U.S. Should Implement ‘Medicare-for-All’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Testimony given today by experts from Canada, Denmark, Taiwan and other countries underscores that single-payer health care systems remove the kind of hindrances to quality care that still plague the U.S., Public Citizen said today.

The witnesses provided compelling evidence to the members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging regarding the benefits of efficient, single-payer health care systems in their respective nations.  

Citing cost savings and improved access to health care, expert witnesses explained to subcommittee members what’s been clear to Public Citizen for years: A Medicare-for-all, single-payer system would remove one of the main hurdles the U.S. faces in the quest to provide quality health care for everyone: high overall administrative charges from insurance companies. 

For example, the Canadian witness, Dr. Danielle Martin, vice president of medical affairs and health system solutions at Women’s College Hospital, compared access to care, quality of care and costs in the U.S. and Canadian systems, and found all were superior in Canada. Martin compared the American average for administrative costs of 31 percent to the 1.3 percent administrative costs paid by Canada (not counting costs for private supplemental plans available to Canadians.) Professor Jakob Kjellberg from the Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research, who served as the Danish expert witness, said his country’s administrative costs are only 4.3 percent of total health care spending. 

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the subcommittee, is a longtime champion of single-payer health systems and introduced legislation late in 2013, the American Health Security Act of 2013 (S. 1782), to move the United States to a unified system of health care delivery. In addition, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has introduced single-payer legislation, the Expanded and Improved Medicare-For-All Act (H.R. 676).

Several witnesses discussed their countries’ goals of equity and how universal access to care was well-regarded by citizens. Dr. Ching-chuan Yeh of Taiwan, former health minister of Taiwan and professor at the School of Public Health, College of Medicine at Tzu Chi University, explained how the nation has achieved 99.6 percent coverage for the population and subsequently has seen increases in life expectancy and a drop in the infant mortality rate. 

“Today’s panel was a good first step that will hopefully inspire a real discussion about the benefits of single-payer health care in the United States,” said Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “A single-payer, or Medicare-for-all, system would eliminate health insurance companies from the equation, ensuring that only patients and their doctors make decisions about care options.”

In addition to the national movement to adopt a single-payer health care system, state-based proposals have been put forward in several states (Vermont, New York, California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Hawaii and Colorado) that would require a single government payer for health care services instead of a patchwork of private and public health insurers. As explained by the subcommittee witnesses, such systems have a record of providing comprehensive, universal care at a significantly lower cost than we pay for the U.S.’s fragmented system, which leaves millions of people with no coverage.

“Public Citizen supports states moving toward single-payer systems and has outlined a road map for states to achieve the important goal of maximum coverage with minimum cost,” Harley said. “However, we need a national system that truly provides health care for all. We are encouraged by today’s hearing and look forward to a robust discussion about replicating the best of international models of single-payer here in the U.S.” 

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