Single Payer and Job Loss

By Eric Lazarus, Single Payer Supporter, Burlington

One concern people express about a Single Payer healthcare system, is the loss of jobs that result when insurance companies stop selling health insurance, or, as in some scenarios, fall back to selling only supplemental health insurance.  In either case, many jobs will be lost, and society should always recognize (though it often doesn’t) the special obligation it has to those who incur a penalty when change produces betterment overall, but disruption to some.  Strong unemployment support and re-training should be a part of the anticipated cost of reform.

But the benefit to society goes beyond the reform itself, in this case, healthcare for all, independent of employer or employment status, because rather than adding to our economy, these jobs impose a cost.  When society spends more for healthcare than is necessary to provide the optimum, those resources are wasted, and weigh down everything else.  Of course, we are nowhere near the optimum in the provision of healthcare, and many tens of millions of us have no, or limited access, to necessary treatment.

Because the cost of healthcare has been growing at multiples of the cost of living, healthcare spending has consumed an increasing portion of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which currently stands at around 17%, and in a few years will take fully one fifth of the nation’s productive capacity.

Peter Orzag, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, has stated publicly that the increasing cost of healthcare, if unaddressed, will, by itself, bring our economy to ruin.

The jobs of workers in the health insurance industry are only part of the excessive cost of healthcare, but the system they support, actually holds back the rest of society.  It is more costly for employers to hire permanent employees.  It is more difficult for employees to move from one employer to another, where they may be happier and more productive.  American made products carry this extra cost, and are more expensive.  Families spend an increasing portion of their income on healthcare, if they can afford it at all, and so have to cut back on other things.  And the nation’s capacity to pay for the truly productive infrastructure that successful nations have always invested in, transportation, education, energy, is reduced.

And what about the jobs?  With the responsibility and cost of providing healthcare for their employees removed, it will be easier for businesses to hire new staff, and it will make them more competitive in the marketplace.

In a single payer system everyone pays into the same fund and that fund directly pays for the healthcare capacity necessary to serve the 10 to 20% of us who actually need to use it at any one time.  When we ask people to pay only what they can afford to pay, then almost everyone can contribute.  With our healthcare facilities open to all of us, we will need more people directly providing healthcare: home health workers, diabetes educators, nurses, LNAs, ultrasound technicians, etc.  It’s a positive feedback loop that creates jobs, removes a major constraint on our economy, and increases well being.  This is a simple reality in most other industrial countries.  It can happen here.

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