(CN) – While often decried as an unaffordable foray into socialism, a single-payer health care system would, if implemented in the United States, bring overall health care costs down over time – possibly in as early as the first year, according to a new study.
The study, published Wednesday in PLOS Medicine, examined 22 single-payer proposals that have been suggested within the last three decades in an effort to understand how America’s health care system would respond to each proposal. The researchers discovered that nearly all of the proposals – 19 out of the 22 – soundly predicted net health care savings overall within the first year of being implemented.
Researchers found the savings would not just be limited to the short term. Nearly half of the proposals made long-term projections on health care costs, some up to 11 years in the future, and they all found that as a single-payer system matured costs continued to go down. This trend was so apparent that even models that reported some initial cost increases eventually predicted costs decreasing after the first 10 years.
Researchers say the study will help shed some much-needed light on the realities of a single-payer system and show people that the math favors the United States embracing universal health care.
James G. Kahn, one of the authors of the study and professor in the University of California, San Francisco Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, says the adoption of a single-payer system would not just bring about net health care savings, but would also allow us to divert critical health care resources often tied up in the complex health care apparatus towards more meaningful goals.
“For me, the important lesson is that single payer can re-direct huge resources – about $700 billion per year in the U.S. – from insurance paperwork and excessive drug prices to clinical care. In other words, with a simplified payment system, we can afford to insure everyone and with high quality insurance – broad benefits, minimal cost-sharing, choice of provider,” Kahn said in an email.
The study notes that despite spending more money on health care than any other nation on Earth, the United States remains one of the few developed counties that does not offer a form of universal coverage.
Kahn hopes the research will help more people see the facts behind a single-payer health care system and will come to understand why it is has already worked for other nations around the world.
“We're hoping that people who appreciate these benefits of single payer, but hear of skeptics about the costs, will be convinced by the economics research that such a system can work here as it has in so many other countries,” Kahn said.
Christopher Cai, lead author of the study and a third-year medical student at UCSF, notes that when examining the various proposals, the researchers found the plans that were best equipped to save money were ones that eliminated private insurance. Plans that kept private insurance did not yield the kind of savings as their “Medicare for All” counterparts.
“Importantly, these findings do not apply to proposals that include private insurance. Plans like ‘Medicare for all who want it’ are likely to increase total health care costs, without providing the comprehensive benefits of single-payer (because they include private insurance),” Cai said in an email.
Another key factor to consider is that any political leanings that may have been injected into each of the single-payer proposals did not inflict any real consequences on the projected health care savings. The study found that while some of the proposals offered by left-leaning groups predicted slightly more savings, most plans suggested savings would take place in the long run regardless if they were drawn up by liberal or conservative hands.
Cai suggests that with health care poised to remain a hot-button issue in the 2020 elections and frequently and fiercely debated within the political spectrum, Americans should take this opportunity to considered facts and the broad future of our health care apparatus, first and foremost.
“Our study includes four medical student co-authors. We represent the future of health care providers and wanted to study the evidence on this issue,” Cai said. “As we continue to debate health care reform, politicians and the public should know Medicare for All is very likely to save money while providing universal health coverage, with minimal or no copays and deductibles. People will get to keep their physicians and have minimal financial barriers to accessing care. This is what the scientific evidence strongly supports. It's our hope that elected officials will draw on our research in spreading accurate information.”
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