On August 2, the New Haven Board of Alders unanimously approved an aldermanic resolution in support of the Medicare for All Act of 2021 (H.R. 1976). This is a landmark piece of legislation that would establish a single-payer national health program in the United States. While the alder’s resolution has no authority to create such a program it will, once enacted, be delivered to Connecticut’s congressional delegation, as well as New Haven’s delegation to the state legislature, with the hope of spurring those representatives to support Medicare for All.
Every person in New Haven – and in the United States – deserves quality healthcare. Currently, too many are uninsured or underinsured. When people cannot get needed medical care their health suffers. When they use services that they cannot afford they incur medical debt. Our research on debt in New Haven has found that 20% of lower-income residents owe medical debt. There is a strong connection between unsecured debt such as medical debt and serious negative health outcomes. It is unconscionable and absurd that we push people seeking medical care into a financial situation that risks worsening their health even further.
While many people owe tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt, even relatively small healthcare costs can cause huge problems. One person, I’ll call her Janice, who participated in our study told us how healthcare costs pushed her into a spiral that she is still struggling to pull out of. She had recently bought a car so that she could drive to work and was just managing to stay afloat with car payments, rent and utilities, especially after paying for registration, insurance and taxes. It was a struggle, but she was confident she’d make it. But then Janice had to have emergency surgery and was left with a $1,500 copay. In the chaos of her hospital admission, she agreed to a payment plan and provided her bank details but was taken unawares when the first $500 installment was withdrawn from her account in the middle of the month. It caused her to be overdrawn, adding a $35 fee; her automatic utility payment added another. Ultimately, Janice was unable to keep her car, and also fell behind on rent. She had trouble sleeping, and her mental health was affected.
Even when people do have good health insurance, such as that provided to employees of Yale University, the fact that such insurance is not available to all constrains their choices. I have colleagues who dream of a different career, or of opening their own business, but they are too afraid to leave behind the health insurance they have through their Yale job. As a researcher who works with people who are low income and/or who have disabilities, I too often hear from people whose fear of losing Medicaid puts them off taking steps towards employment, or even saving money for emergency expenses (Medicaid has strict income and asset limits).
Under a single-payer system, every single person in New Haven would have health insurance with no premiums, no copays, and no deductibles. Not only would this mean that people would be free from medical debt and be able to follow their dreams and make sensible financial plans, but the City of New Haven could also save upwards of $70 million per year. By voting Yes on the upcoming resolution, the New Haven board of alders have sent a strong message not only to people like Janice, but also to Hartford and Washington, D.C. that New Haven wants Medicare For All.
Annie Harper is a research scientist in New Haven.