Council's rejection of mental health tax adds to healthcare tipping point

By Susan Eidenschink
During the month of December, the Pierce County Council failed to move forward with a mental health tax. To better understand the need for this tax, the council had requested a behavioral health system study.
This study was designed to help council members to better understand the behavioral health-related needs in Pierce County, to examine available behavioral health resources, to determine behavioral health prevention and treatment gaps, and to make recommendations for a comprehensive, cost-effective, recovery-oriented system that meets the unique needs of Pierce County.
A report of the study was presented to council members and the public in October and November 2016. Even with the information presented in the report, which showed a great need of money to help those in need of behavioral health services, three council members voted against the mental health tax, causing it to fail.
If we had true healthcare reform, this failure of the county to provide services to the most vulnerable would have less impact. At our January Unit meetings, the League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County will view a video about ?xing our broken healthcare system and discuss ways that reform can take place. The video is entitled "Fix It: Health Care at the Tipping Point." The information in the video explains how to provide healthcare coverage for all medically necessary services to all Americans at a savings of about $504 billion per year. Patients would regain the choice of doctor and hospital, and doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.
In the current system, intermediaries - insurance companies - limit a patient's choices of a doctor and hospital and limit doctors' ability to treat patients in the way that is thought to be most effective. A public agency would organize all healthcare ?nancing. Delivery of care would remain private. One policy, rather than hundreds of policies, would reduce the need for sorting through what is covered and what is not covered.
The average annual per-capita healthcare expense of countries in the industrial world, excluding the United States, is $3,484. Each person in the United States, which does not have a publicly ?nanced healthcare policy, spends over twice that much, or about $8,745. Approximately 50 percent of United States healthcare is publicly ?nanced – Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration. In a one-payment system, there is much more negotiating control, so drug prices could be reduced. The Veterans Administration receives a 40 percent discount on drugs because of its buying power.
In addition to individuals, municipalities and school districts would see the cost of healthcare drop substantially, because employees would have their own one-payer healthcare coverage. For-pro?t employers would have their health care expenses reduced, too. As in other industrialized countries, they would contribute to the healthcare ?nancing agency, which would be less than their current healthcare expenses.
The League of Women Voters has a position supporting single-payer, universal healthcare.

Susan Eidenschink is the treasurer and a board member of the League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County. This article originally appeared in the group’s January newsletter.