209 US economists sign a ‘Medicare for All’ statement

Nurses demonstrate in Washington demanding safe staffing levels in hospitals

TWO HUNDRED and nine economists have signed a public statement supporting Medicare for All, said the National Nurses United union on Tuesday.

The letter called the current health care system ‘exorbitant and wasteful’ and asserts that ‘the time is now to create a universal, single-payer, Medicare for All health care system in the United States.’

Jeffrey Sachs, world-renowned professor of economics at Columbia University, said: ‘America’s health system turns our survival over to greedy companies with the market power to set outrageously high prices.

‘Medicare for All will give us a system already proven in other countries: much lower costs with less hassle and worry. It’s a sure winner – except for the profiteers.’

The letter was sent to Members of Congress ahead of the House Budget Committee’s hearing on Medicare for All on Wednesday, May 22nd.

It was spearheaded by National Nurses United (NNU), National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Business Initiative for Health Policy, Progressive Democrats of America and Progressive Caucus Action Fund.

In the letter, the economists underlined the savings of the multi-payer insurance system in the United States, especially compared to other countries.

‘Public financing for health is not a matter of raising new money for health care,’ the letter stated, ‘but of reducing total health care outlays and distributing payments more equitably and efficiently.’

NNU stressed: ‘Economic analyses by the Mercatus Centre and the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, for example, have projected the Medicare for All would reduce total national health care costs by hundreds of billions of dollars each year while simultaneously guaranteeing safe, therapeutic health care for every person in the United States.’

National Nurses United President Jean Ross said: ‘For patients, the effects would be life-changing.

‘A Medicare for All system would guarantee the care we need throughout our lifetime and patients would no longer have to deal with debilitating premiums, out-of-pocket costs, hospital bills, and drug costs again.’

The statement said that ‘implementing a unified single-payer system would reduce administrative costs,’ and that ‘combined with public control of drug prices and a dramatically simplified global budgeting system, a sensible Medicare financing system would reduce healthcare costs while guaranteeing access to comprehensive care and financial security to all.’

Medicare for All is the only proposal in Congress that would streamline administration through a single public payer and introduce these public controls on drug and hospital prices, stressed the NNU.

‘This letter illustrates how Medicare for All is really a win-win’ said Cathy Albisa, Executive Director of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.

‘It would lower the nation’s health care costs over time while guaranteeing everyone the care they need and financial security. The only real losers are the big health care companies profiting off of our sickness and health.’

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, hounds poor patients over 0.03 per cent of revenue.

Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) set collections attorneys on thousands of patients over the past decade, often taking extraordinary measures to extract payment from patients who probably owed no money at all under the state laws governing the non-profit medical provider.

According to a new report from union researchers with National Nurses United, the hospital’s outside counsel sued 2,438 separate former patients between January 2009 and December 2018, typically over sums so modest that they pose no threat to the balance-sheet health of either JHH or the broader Johns Hopkins Medicine network of facilities and providers.

The median amount JHH deemed worth taking to court was $1,438.

A hospital that has taken in $16.5 billion in operating revenue over the past decade has used the courts to go after a total of just $4.4 million in unpaid bills.

That works out to about a third of a penny for every dollar the hospital generated from in the 10 years of lawsuit activity detailed in the NNU report.

But while inconsequential to the JHH bottom line, the money at issue is potentially ruinous for the people the hospital sues.

Forty-three Hopkins patients have ended up filing for bankruptcy after being sued by the hospital.

One such desperate victim of the Hopkins collections practices documented the way in which she was forced to teeter on the edge of a knife, financially speaking, when the hospital sought $10,745 from her.

She relied on food stamps to feed herself and two minors on a take-home income of $2,201.33 at the time the hospital sued.

Many of the approximately 2,000 patients sued by JHH who have not yet turned to bankruptcy for relief are likely not far from that life-changing cliff.

More than 300 defendants live in zip codes where the median household income is below $45,000. More than 1,000 of them live in zip codes where the child poverty rate is 19 per cent or higher.

These topline indicators are imprecise, but strongly indicate that those targeted by the hospital’s legal attack dogs probably should have been offered free or heavily subsidised care when they turned to the largest high-quality hospital in Baltimore, the report suggests.

As a not-for-profit medical provider, Johns Hopkins has received hundreds of millions of public dollars in tax exemptions.

Maryland law is crystal clear about what all that subsidisation from taxpayers is supposed to ensure for the neediest people in the state. Anyone surviving on an income less than 200 per cent of the federal poverty line may not be charged for health care that’s deemed necessary. Families getting by on between two and five times the federal poverty income must be billed on a sliding scale that reduces their prices by between 20 and 80 cents on the dollar.

Some of those sued by Hopkins in the past decade almost certainly qualified for such financial assistance from the taxpayer-supported medical centre.

One unnamed Baltimore resident the hospital sued reported earning $13.95 an hour from a job at another non-profit employer in the area. That wage should have translated to at least a 60 per cent write-off on his bills from a 2014 visit to the hospital, the NNU researchers note, but he ‘was billed $2,100.86 and received no adjustment on the amount’.

JHH’s lawyers spent the next two years chasing the man’s meagre earnings in court, repeatedly asking a judge to order his wages garnished to repay a debt he likely should not have owed under state law.

Another unnamed defendant in a Hopkins debt suit was working for McDonald’s when he ended up in the JHH emergency room. Despite his slack earning power, he was issued an unadjusted $1,990 bill for the visit and eventually subjected to a garnishment order to collect $2,081.98 – the original, dubious billing amount plus about a hundred bucks in interest and court fees.

Many of the Hopkins suits target even smaller amounts of money than these questionable examples. The hospital sued a man named Eric Simmons over the $524 remainder of its billings not covered by his insurance following an ankle injury. An unnamed 55-year-old woman got sued for $280.13 that hadn’t been covered by her insurance, eventually informing a judge that she had just $92.18 in the bank – which led Hopkins’ lawyers to ask the court’s help extracting all $92.18 through a bank levy.