I remember back in the 1980s sometime when a campaign for health care reform was first getting underway. At that time, the slogan was for “socialized medicine”. I remember we were meeting in a meeting room of some union in downtown Oakland. At one of the meetings, a leader announced that the union leadership had decided that we should change our slogan from “socialized medicine” to a call for “single payer”. (Since then, the slogan has morphed once again into “Medicare for All”.) I’m not sure if most other people in the room understood the difference at that time. I certainly didn’t.
But the present Coronavirus pandemic certainly indicates it: “We have a limited number of beds; we have a limited number of ventilators; we have a limited number of all the things that are part of supportive care that the most severely affected people will require,” said Bill Hanage, epidemiologist at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health.
Hospital beds per 1000 residents
One standard unit of measure is the number of hospital beds per thousand people in a country. Here are some statistics:
- Germany: 8 beds per 1000 residents
- France: 5.98 beds per 1000 residents
- Italy: 3.18 beds per 1000 residents
- Britain: 2.54 beds per 1000 residents.
- And the US? Only 2.8 beds per 1000.
Here are some historical statistics of beds per 1000 in the US (calculated by dividing the number of beds as found here by the census population)
- 1975 = 6.78 beds per thousand
- 1990 = 4.85 beds per thousand
- 2000 = 3.48 beds per thousand
- 2017 = 3.29 beds per thousand
Hospital chain mergers
The reason for this disastrous decline is the epidemic of hospital chain mergers. Three years ago, Oaklandsocialist explained this issue. Like all important sectors of the US economy, hospital chains have been merging and shutting down hospitals in order to cut costs and boost profits (or the equivalent of profits in the “nonprofit” sector). Obama’s ACA actually accelerated this trend. That was because it led to increased consolidation of the insurance companies, so the hospitals did the same so that the ever larger chains would have greater bargaining power in relation to the insurance companies. Medicare for all – which means one single, giant payer – would even further accelerate this trend, meaning even fewer hospital beds per person.
Seduced by Medicare for All
This is why it has been such a serious mistake for socialists to have allowed themselves to be completely seduced by the radical liberal demand for Medicare for All. Sure, that would be a positive step, but it does very, very little to resolve this looming disaster.
Sure, Medicare for All would be a step in the right direction, but who would even need health insurance if medical care were a free public service? Just imagine if socialists had been raising this demand for the last 15 years, where we would be right now!
But it’s not too late. From the pharmaceutical industry to the manufacturers of medical equipment to the hospitals and other medical providers – it all should be nationalized and run by the workers in those industries and the patients they serve.