Cancer Crisis in the USA: is Single Payer the Solution?

We have a cancer crisis in the USA. Besides the obvious pain and suffering that cancer causes, there is the financial burden that it creates.

During the 2016 U.S. Presidential primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) stated that healthcare was a fundamental human right. He proposed a Medicare for All system. This would extend the single payer healthcare system, currently enjoyed by those over 65, to all Americans.

This idea sounded outlandishly radical to some people. In fact, his main Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, mocked him at the time:

“People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have some theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass.

But then a funny thing happened.

Sanders’ “never, ever” idea refused to go away. According to a CNBC report:

The vast majority of Americans, 70 percent, now support Medicare for all, otherwise known as single-payer health care, according to a new Reuters survey. That includes 85 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans. Only 20 percent of Americans say they outright oppose the idea.

As a result, when Sanders proposed his 2017 Medicare for All Act, 16 Senators jumped on board. Among these were Cory A. Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren. All of these are likely contenders for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination.

Could “Medicare for All” solve the Cancer Crisis?

Let’s look at some facts. Today, in the U.S.,

  • Tens of millions of working people are barely able to get by.
  • 40% of Americans don’t have the cash to cover a $400 emergency.
  • About 44 million people have no health insurance.
  • 38 million others have inadequate health insurance.

To quote a PBS report:

“This means that nearly one-third of Americans face each day without the security of knowing that, if and when they need it, medical care is available to them and their families.”

But the average cost of treating cancer is about $150,000 per patient. See this data at the NIH (adjusted for those with insurance) So for most of the 82 million Americans without adequate insurance, a cancer crisis is a financial, as well as medical, catastrophe. According to AARP, fighting cancer:

“…often requires a range of treatments over an extended period of time—lengthy radiation, complicated surgeries, costly chemotherapy, plus other strong medications to supercharge your immunity.”

The cancer crisis puts an unbearable strain on individuals, families and whole communities. And this need cannot be made up by charity, or GoFundMe drives, or the occasional free clinic.

Drug Prices soaring through the roof!

To take one example, the cost of new cancer drugs is simply beyond belief. One Big Pharma company, Novartis, has priced its new drug, Kymriah, at $475,000 per injection! Since on the average American workers make about $45,000 per year, they would have to work for ten years straight just to pay for that one shot! And even if your insurance paid 80% of that, you would still face a copay of almost $100,000.

Patients may face homelessness as a result of the cost of their cancer treatment. As one patient said:

“I’ve been housesitting, pet-sitting, and couch surfing for the last few years, I have no home. I’ve spent all my savings. I sold most of my stuff and put the rest in storage. I’ve been in extreme survival mode since 2012, when I had to leave my apartment.”

People facing this cancer crisis are 2½ times more likely to declare bankruptcy than healthy people. And cancer patients who go bankrupt are 80 percent more likely to die from their disease than other patients.

“For many patients, when they get the bills, it can be as bad as some of the side effects of the disease or the treatment,” said Gary Lyman, MD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, WA.

What do other countries do?

Such horrors are simply not known to people in 32 of the 33 top economies in the world. Norway has had a single payer system since 1912. From Australia to France, Ireland to Italy, the developed world is covered by “healthcare for all” systems of various kinds. It is the U.S. alone that is the glaring exception to this rule. This is why we have a ‘cancer crisis’.

Medicare for all may raise some other problems, such as exactly how to pay for such a system. But one thing is certain. We can’t go on for very long with the current way of doing things. Those who are against Medicare for all will need to come up with an alternative plan. If they simply block single-payer, treating cancer as a cash cow, the cancer crisis will continue to ruin tens of thousands of working people across the land.

See our other blog posts:

Is this One Dollar Pill a Breast Cancer Breakthrough?

Goldman Sachs to Biotech: Don’t Cure Cancer