Medicare for All offers a real solution

It’s a mainstream idea whose time has come, especially for high-cost Alaska

February 15, 2023 8:25 pm
A sign is waved urging Medicare for All. (Photo provided by Lawrence D. Weiss)

A sign is waved urging Medicare for All. (Photo provided by Lawrence D. Weiss)

The United States spends more per person on health care than any other country. We are not talking a smidgeon more, we are talking a lot more. As of 2021 we spent an average of $12,914 per year per person. The runner-up, Germany, spent an average of $7,383 per person. We spend at least 70% more on health care per person than any other country in the world. 

That’s bad enough, but the full story for Alaskans is much worse. Based on 2020 figures, Alaska has the second-highest per person health expenditure of any state in the union at $13,642 per person. Note, national and state costs are calculated differently. In sum, we Alaskans have some of the most expensive health care in the entire world. At the same time, unlike most other western industrialized nations of the world, we do not have a comprehensive national health care system. As a result, a lot of us in Alaska and in the Lower 48 can’t afford adequate health care. Consider the facts:

  • In 2021, more than 27 million Americans did not have health insurance at any point during the year;
  • About four in ten U.S. adults say they have delayed or gone without medical care in the last year due to cost;
  • About a quarter of adults say they or a family member in their household have not filled a prescription, cut pills in half, or skipped doses of medicine in the last year because of the cost; and
  • About one-third of insured adults worry about affording their health insurance premium, and 44% worry about paying their deductible before insurance starts coverage. Moreover, during the past two decades the cost of health insurance has risen at a rate approaching twice the general rate of inflation.

We have done a lot of tinkering around the edges since the 1960s attempting to control costs and improve access to health care: certificates of need, accountable care organizations, health maintenance organizations, the Affordable Care Act, and many other such schemes and programs. Most of these have not had much of an impact, but one stands out — Medicare. 

“It is estimated that between 1999 and 2013, Medicare saved over 300,000 lives. Between 1965, when Medicare was established, and 2018, the average life expectancy of an American 65-year old increased by nearly 5 years. One study from Stanford University researchers found that turning 65 in the United States is associated with a substantial increase in the diagnosis of the four most common types of cancer (lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer) as well as an increase in cancer survival rates, suggesting that older Americans delay seeking medical care until they are eligible for Medicare.” [source: Medicare-for-All fact sheet]

One more example: A 2021 study published in the journal Health Affairs found that, compared with older persons at age 64 (who were too young to have Medicare), those on Medicare were almost twice as likely to get needed care because cost was not an obstacle.

So, what to do? 

“Single-payer national health insurance, also known as ‘Medicare for all,’ is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health care financing, but the delivery of care remains largely in private hands. … All residents of the U.S. would be covered for all medically necessary services, including doctor, hospital, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs.

“The program would be funded by combining our current, considerable sources of public funding (such as Medicare and Medicaid) with modest new taxes based on ability to pay. … Premiums would disappear, and 95 percent of all households would save money. Patients would no longer face financial barriers to care such as co-pays and deductibles, and would regain free choice of doctor and hospital.” [source: Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)]

Please, no eye-rolling or mumbling “socialist pie in the sky hooey.” It is a mainstream idea whose time has come. PNHP is an organization including more than 20,000 physicians who support a Medicare for all national health plan. In May of 2022, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 14 of his colleagues in the Senate introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2022 to guarantee health care in the United States as a fundamental human right. And the American voter loves it. In an April 2020 Hill-HarrisX poll, 69 percent of registered voters support providing Medicare to every American. Intrigued? Learn more at PNHP or take a look at a summary of the bill.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Lawrence D. Weiss
Lawrence D. Weiss

Lawrence D. Weiss is a University of Alaska Anchorage professor emeritus of public health and creator of Alaska's only master of public health program. He is the author of several books and numerous articles and has been executive director of a couple of Alaska nonprofits. Now retired in Anchorage, he writes articles for local newspapers and pens the occasional memoir or short story.