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For most of us in medicine, helping people live healthy, happy lives is at the heart of why we chose this career. We expound upon this in application essays, talk about it during interviews, and start medical school with this “calling” fresh in our minds.
Very early in our medical careers – on the wards and in the classroom – we learn that inequality, preventable illness, and death are an inherent part of our current private, for-profit-oriented health insurance system.
We see patients receive preventable amputations due to untreated diabetes. We see people permanently disabled by stroke because they were unable to afford their medications. College funds emptied out to pay for $100,000-a-year cancer treatments. Families bankrupted and lives destroyed.
We learn that, although the United States is one of the wealthiest countries on earth, we are also the only developed nation that does not provide health care to all of its citizens. We learn that we spend over 17% of our GDP – more than any country in the world – on this non-universal coverage. We learn that medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States.
We learn that, despite its title, the Affordable Care Act is not truly affordable. Even after the ACA, tens of millions of people are still unable to afford insurance, and tens of thousands die every year because of uninsurance.
All of which leads most reasonable medical students to ask, what can we do about this?
Just as the problem is clearly mapped out, so is the solution.
There is an excellent model for universal health care – one that covers everyone, leads to better health outcomes, and costs taxpayers far less than the current U.S. system – implemented in dozens of countries around the world, including our next door neighbor, Canada. This model is called single-payer health care.
Implementing a single-payer system in the United States would be far from revolutionary. As part of its fragmented, multi-payer system, the U.S. also has a single-payer-like subdivision, which we call Medicare. It is efficient, cost-effective, and has stood the test of time, providing health insurance to all American seniors for the past 50 years. By improving and expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, we can use this existing infrastructure to achieve universal coverage, better health outcomes, and better physician working conditions.
Medical students across the country have already joined the fight for universal, single-payer health care. Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) currently has 650 members in over 40 chapters across the country. On Thursday, October 1, we will join together in a day of action to demand a more just system through the institution of a single-payer, universal, “Medicare-for-All” system. SNaHP chapters at medical schools will hold teach-ins, rallies, and an evening candlelight vigil to bring national attention to our failing health care system. Today, we are asking you – our classmates and friends – to join us in this fight.
As future medical professionals, and as compassionate people who plan to devote our lives to caring for others, we cannot acquiesce to this unjust, senseless loss of life.
We have to do something about it.
Please join us for the #TenOne Medicare-for-All National Day of Action and help advocate for a more just system in which physicians can uphold our profession with integrity, compassion, and dignity.