KAISER HEALTH NEWS REPORT: Doctors Warm To Single-Payer Health Care

By  //  August 19, 2017

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physician support of a single-payer healthcare system is driven by overwhelming administrative burden and regulatory tasks of the existing system

In a single-payer system, a public entity, such as the government, would pay all the medical bills for a certain population, rather than insurance companies doing that work.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Physicians for a National Health Program describes single-payer national health insurance as:

…a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health care financing, but the delivery of care remains largely in private hands. Under a single-payer system, all residents of the U.S. would be covered for all medically necessary services, including doctor, hospital, preventive, long-term care, mental health, reproductive health care, dental, vision, prescription drug and medical supply costs.

The program would be funded by the savings obtained from replacing today’s inefficient, profit-oriented, multiple insurance payers with a single streamlined, nonprofit, public payer, and by modest new taxes based on ability to pay. Premiums would disappear; 95 percent of all households would save money. Patients would no longer face financial barriers to care such as co-pays and deductibles, and would regain free choice of doctor and hospital. Doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.

The lynchpin to the success of this model is contingent on the word “streamlined” in the second paragraph above. The system would have to redirect the multi-billions of dollars in administrative waste, fraud and abuse that is inherent to both governmental and free market health systems into effective, efficient care. To ensure that benefits are sustainable over the long term would require large-scale cost controls, which would have to include every aspect of healthcare and the elimination of the existing fragmented system that is incapable of controlling costs.

Kaiser Health News reports on physicians’ evolving attitude toward a single-payer system, of which there is increasing physician support driven by overwhelming administrative burden and regulatory tasks of the existing system.

— Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

KAISER HEALTH NEWS — Single-payer health care is still a controversial idea in the U.S., but a majority of physicians are moving to support it, a new survey finds.

Fifty-six percent of doctors registered either strong support or were somewhat supportive of a single-payer health system, according to the survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm. In its 2008 survey, opinions ran the opposite way — 58 percent opposed single-payer. What’s changed?

Red tape, doctors tell Merritt Hawkins. Phillip Miller, the firm’s vice president of communications, said that in the thousands of conversations its employees have with doctors each year, physicians often say they are tired of dealing with billing and paperwork, which takes time away from patients.

“Physicians long for the relative clarity and simplicity of single-payer. In their minds, it would create less distractions, taking care of patients — not reimbursement,” Miller said.

In a single-payer system, a public entity, such as the government, would pay all the medical bills for a certain population, rather than insurance companies doing that work.

A long-term trend away from physicians owning their practices may be another reason that single-payer is winning some over. Last year was the first in which fewer than half of practicing physicians owned their practice — 47.1 percent — according to the American Medical Association’s surveys in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Many doctors are today employed by hospitals or health care institutions, rather than working for themselves in traditional solo or small-group private practices. Those doctors might be less invested in who pays the invoices, Miller said.

There’s also a growing sense of inevitability, Miller said, as more doctors assume single-payer is on the horizon.

“I would say there is a sense of frustration, a sense of maybe resignation that we’re moving in that direction, let’s go there and get it over with,” he said.

Merritt Hawkins emailed its survey Aug. 3 and received responses from 1,003 doctors. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

With the Affordable Care Act establishing the principle that everyone deserves health coverage but falling short on its “affordability” and sustainability, for an increasing number of physicians the conversation has changed to how best to provide universal coverage through a single-payer system.

The Affordable Care Act established the principle that everyone deserves health coverage, said Shawn Martin, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Academy of Family Physicians. Inside the medical profession, the conversation has changed to how best to provide universal coverage, he said.

“That’s the debate we’re moving into, that’s why you’re seeing a renewed interest in single-payer,” Martin said.

Dr. Steven Schroeder, who chaired a national commission in 2013 that studied how physicians are paid, said the attitude of medical students is also shifting.

Schroeder has taught medicine at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center since 1971 and has noticed students’ increasing support for a single-payer system, an attitude they likely carry into their professional careers.

“Most of the medical students here don’t understand why the rest of the country doesn’t support it,” said Schroeder.

Internal Medicine Physician Dr. Jose Santiago Joins Dr. John Potomski’s CFP Care GroupRelated Story:
Internal Medicine Physician Dr. Jose Santiago Joins Dr. John Potomski’s CFP Care Group

The Merritt Hawkins’ findings follow two similar surveys this year.

In February, a LinkedIn survey of 500 doctors found that 48 percent supported a “Medicare for all” type of system, and 32 percent opposed the idea.

The second, released by the Chicago Medical Society in June, reported that 56 percent of doctors in that area picked single-payer as the “best care to the greatest number of people.” More than 1,000 doctors were surveyed.

Since June 2016, more than 2,500 doctors have endorsed a proposal published in the American Journal of Public Health calling for a single-payer to replace the Affordable Care Act. The plan was drafted by the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which says it represents 21,600 doctors, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer.

Clare Fauke, a communications specialist for the organization, said the group added 1,065 members in the past year and membership is now the highest since PNHP began in 1987.

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