Single payer, explained with cereal

Bring up the topic of “health insurance” and you’re likely to get a range of reactions from worrisome to frustration to anger. Oh, sure, there are those who you might offer up a pleasant tone toward the issue, but for the majority of us, it’s still the sick elephant in the room when it comes to life. Say the word “Obamacare”, and the mood could get even nastier.

But this entry (and, for that matter, this site) isn’t about stirring up any angst. It’s about suggesting an alternative for the majority of Americans who continue to deal with, and worry about, healthcare coverage. However, the problem is that most people really can’t wrap their head around the general concept of this option, which, in reality, is quite simple. That option is single payer.

When I bring up the idea of single payer healthcare, the reply is almost universal: a tilt of the head, a slight furrow of the brow and the utterance of the words, “What’s that?”

Glad you asked.

First, let’s brake down the phrase “single payer”. It seems that most people can grasp that the “single” part of it refers to the “single” entity of the government. Where they seem to stumble is the “payer” part of it. Too many think that single payer is government taking over healthcare. It’s not. That would be “single provider” healthcare. We’re talking about single payer. That’s where the government would foot the bill for you. You still go to your same privately owned and operated healthcare provider, but at the end of your visit, you just leave. No need to bring out the wallet. Simply keep your money in your purse or pocket.

So how does this work, and why is this the best option? To illustrate, I’ll use a breakfast mainstay. Let’s say you have a favorite brand of cold cereal, and it’s one that’s made in Battle Creek, Michigan. It comes in blue box. Has a cartoon tiger for a mascot. Rhymes with the words “Schmellogg’s Crosted Blakes.” Okay, you know which one I’m referring to.

Now, let’s say you’ve been buying that cereal at your favorite local grocery store – a retail outlet. There’s a certain cost you pay at the register for the entire box and its contents. But that price can also be divided up into a certain amount that you pay per ounce of cereal. Well, the cost of the box is equivalent to what the health insurance company pays for providing you and the rest of its customer base for coverage. The cost per ounce is what you pay for the health insurance.

Now let’s say you visit a wholesale outlet for that exact same brand of cereal (not some off-brand). Here, items are purchased in bulk or larger quantities. But because these are wholesale outlets and not retail outlets, the prices per measured unit (ounces, items, etc.) are lower – in some cases, much lower. That’s basically what single payer is. It’s health insurance at wholesale prices.

I know what you’re thinking, “but that means increasing our taxes!” Well, yes and no. You see, while there would be a new tax, it’s actually a replacement tax. That means it would not be something that’s added on to what your already pay, it would in actuality take the place of it. (Think of it as upgrading your cell phone – when you get a new one, most likely and reasonably, you don’t keep the old one around.) And what you would pay with the replacement tax would be less than what you’re paying now in terms of premiums, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. In layman’s terms, that means you would be saving money – perhaps a lot of it.

States are starting to take a concerted look at single payer. Some have even introduced bills in their legislatures. In my home turf of Pennsylvania, a group called Healthcare 4 All PA has even gone so far as to develop two “savings calculators” where a person or business can see how much they would save. It’s based on a bill introduced by State Representative Pam Delissio (D). Even if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, it’s definitely worth checking out both the bill and the calculators just to get a better grasp of the idea.

Simply put, single payer healthcare is, far and away, the most consumer and business friendly model when it comes to health insurance.

So the next time you feel the angst over heath insurance, take a deep breath, and know that there’s a much better option out there. In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m suddenly in the mood for a bowl of cereal.

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