HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Single Payer Health Care System: New Advocates - Doctors

The Washington Monthly points out this piece in the Wall Street Journal in which Dr. Benjamin Brewer discusses the merits of a single payer health care system and his view that it provides the best answer to our health care woes.  He writes: 

The solution that would really put health-care dollars, and providers, to their best use would be a single-payer system -- namely, government-funded health coverage for all.

It took me a while to conclude that a single-payer health system was the best approach. My fear had been that government would screw up medicine to the detriment of my patients and my practice. If done poorly, the result might be worse than what I'm dealing with now.

But increasingly I've come to believe that if done right, health care in America could be dramatically better with true single-payer coverage; not just another layer -- a part D on top of a part B on top of a part A, but a simplified, single payer that would cover all Americans, including those who could afford the best right now. Representatives and senators in Washington should have to use the same system my patients and I do were they to vote it in.

Doctors in private practice fear a loss of autonomy with a single-payer system. After being in the private practice of family medicine for 8 1/2 years, I see that autonomy is largely an illusion. Through Medicare and Medicaid, the government is already writing its own rules for 45% of the patients I see.

The rest are privately insured under 301 different insurance products (my staff and I counted). The companies set the fees and the contracts are largely non-negotiable by individual doctors.

The amount of time, staff costs and IT overhead associated with keeping track of all those plans eats up most of the money we make above Medicare rates. As it is now, I see patients and wait between 30 and 90 days to get paid. My practice requires two full-time staff members for billing. My two secretaries spend about half their time collecting insurance information. Plus, there's $9,000 in computer expenses yearly to handle the insurance information and billing follow up. I suspect I could go from four people in the paper chase to one with a single-payer system.

It would be simpler and better for the patient, and for me, if the patient could choose a doctor, bring their ID card with them, swipe it in a card reader at the time of service and have the doctor get paid on the spot with electronic funds transfer.

The Washington Monthly link provides access to comments on this piece - beware that some comments contain strong language.  [bm]

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