Heitkamp’s townhall on Healthcare

On Monday, Senator Heidi Heitkamp held a townhall in Fargo on healthcare. It was used primarily as a vehicle to bash the Republicans’ reforms (it does deserve it). As with Heitkamp’s opinion on the ACA, there were good parts and bad parts of her message. Unlike the ACA, the bad portion of her message greatly out-weighed the good portion.

Much of the conversation was devoted to how successful the Medicaid Expansion has been in North Dakota and it has been a great success. It’s given coverage to many people that were very much in need. In fact, it’s been far too successful in a Republican state. Many of our critical care hospitals are completely dependent on it and would close if it’s taken away. It would be a hard pill to swallow if, as the Republicans have been attempting, The Medicaid Expansion is repealed.

With this topic came discussion on how there are still people without medical insurance. These people place a large burden on our healthcare system as their care needs to be paid for by someone. That someone is everyone with private insurance. The best way to reduce these costs is to give these people access to preventive care so that they don’t need to utilize the much more expensive emergency care resources. The low-income care facilities in the Fargo-Moorhead area are not able to keep up with demand due to the lack of providers. Clearly, there is still work to be done.

There is danger lurking on the horizon. Federal healthcare costs are projected to grow exponentially over the coming years. This is, frankly, absurd. The United States already has the highest health care costs per capita in the world for worse outcomes. Some of this was blamed on us, the citizens. We demand the most cutting-edge treatments and will accept nothing less. There was also a fair amount of fat-shaming despite the research that says that weight has little effect on chronic disease and mortality rates.

When confronted on what her plans were, Senator Heitkamp had no ideas. She looked to her experts and said that they are trying their best to reduce costs. That is disingenuous at best, the tuition at our state universities continues to rise, the cost of procedures continues to rise, and prescription drug costs are outrageous.

The answer is right there, waiting to be taken. When I asked whether she supported single payer, she dodged the question, like she would later do when asked about Gorsuch (He’s Scalia’s replacement 😑). Her answer was basically that it’s unlikely that they would be voting on single payer in this Congress (which is true) but, that doesn’t mean that there is any motivation to conceal support of it. Her dodge here, as well as other statements that she gave, is a clear indication that she does not support single payer. This is a big mistake as single payer is the most popular health care plan.

No wonder she shrugs and looks around for answers when asked how she intends to fight inflating health-care costs. She has no plans because the only way to make health care affordable is single payer. Medicare pays the best price for every single medical procedure. Why is this? It’s simple, it is the only provider that is big enough to dictate that medical costs be associated with the actual cost to the provider. The only way to get this kind of leverage needed to control medical costs. There’s a reason why every single other first-world country has single payer. We don’t have it and therefore we pay the highest costs in the world.

At one point, Senator Heitkamp stated that single payer might be the system that we’d choose if we were starting from nothing but we aren’t starting from nothing. This would be laughable if I hadn’t heard it so much. What difference does it make that we already have something in place? That’s like painting a test spot on your wall and then deciding that you don’t like it but you continue anyway because you’ve already started. That’s an absurd position to take.

The only actual reason that Heitkamp gave for not supporting single payer, was when she pointed to her hand-drawn prediction for the growing healthcare costs and indicated that this was only for current recipients of Federal Health Insurance. This is, of course, true. Yet, it is hugely misleading. It leaves out that people are already paying for health insurance. Private health insurance costs money as well and she gave no projection for how that might grow over the same time frame.

This dismissal is ludicrous. Time and again, her advisors stated how detrimental the people that are unable to qualify for Medicaid and also cannot afford private insurance are on the whole healthcare system. Isn’t the answer here clear? If giving those most in need has been hugely beneficial, wouldn’t extending that coverage to everyone be a larger boon to society? This was the clear conclusion by even the Senator’s own statements.

Given the distribution of medical costs across the population, extending Medicare for all wouldn’t cost us that much money. As stated by the experts, 5% of our population is responsible for 50% of the money spent on healthcare. Given that Medicare is only given to older people and those with late-stage renal disease, Medicare is already paying for a significant portion of the expensive 5%. Given that, rolling out Medicare for all should only cost us 4x what it currently does. This would also mean that we could spend all of the money that is currently allocated for Medicaid and TriCare on Medicare. Surely, the amount of money that our population spends on private insurance is far greater than the amount of money required to cover all citizens from birth.

While I think that the economic argument is solid, it is by far the weaker argument to make. Let’s look at our unalienable rights as laid out in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How is anyone granted those if they don’t have their health or live in constant fear of medical bankruptcy? Why are we fine with people debilitating illnesses that they cannot afford to be treated for? The only moral thing to do is give everyone the ability to live the best life that they are able to.