By Paul DeMarco
Election Day 2020 may still be more than a year away, but Democrats running for their party’s nomination for president are clamoring to capture the headlines.
One issue that Alabamians should pay close attention to is health care. Some candidates—like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders—are calling for an immediate overhaul of our entire health care system while others, like former Vice President Joe Biden, suggest the introduction of a public option.
Regardless of how the Democratic candidates label their individual health care plans, there is really not much difference between them—and that is not good news for Alabama. Whether Medicare for all or a public option, any of these plans will eventually lead us to a government-controlled health care insurance system.
Completely undoing the United States health care system and transitioning to a government-controlled one would significantly impact the quality of health care. Under any of these systems, private and employer-sponsored coverage would struggle to compete, which would slowly reduce options for consumers and would also mean fewer resources for health care providers.
For communities in Alabama that already struggle with access and affordability issues, such a move would be devastating. It would not only endanger lives but threaten the economic vitality of many rural communities where the local hospital may be the largest job creator and source of economic stimulus in the area. Figures from the United States Census Bureau show that 45 percent of Alabama residents live in rural areas of the state. Thus, with the effect on hospitals outside of larger metropolitan areas, these healthcare proposals being pushed by these candidates will have a more harsh effect on our state.
Alabama has already had 13 rural hospitals close in the past eight years, thus, the reality is we could even see more closures if these policies were to take effect. Alabama already has high rates of infant mortality and heart disease. Reducing access to health care facilities in less populated regions of our state could increase those rates even higher.
Alabama state, county and local officials have been working to keep these facilities running. However, these policies being promised on the campaign trail will clearly set health care back in our state if funding is reduced for these hospitals.
Medicare for all, a public option or single payer simply does not translate to good public policy for the Nation or Alabama. Candidates running for president should focus instead on ways to improve health care as opposed to one government option. Alabama voters need to pay attention to proposals which will protect and strengthen health care in Alabama and across the country, particularly for rural patients and communities.
Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.