A number of states are edging out insurance companies. This could be huge for the environment.
Few outside of New York paid attention to the state's senate race last night, but I have a hunch people will be looking back on it pretty intensely in a few years. Democrats overtook the state senate, and a coalition of "independent" Democrats who often vote Republican was ousted. This change could be the tipping point for universal health care around the country.
Democrats in New York State have been trying to pass a universal healthcare bill for years, but the Republican majority Senate has always put a stop to it. This year, the bill passed the state assembly and was one vote away from passing in the state senate, though thanks to the Republican majority, it was never brought to the floor. Now that Democrats control the state Senate, that's likely to change.
By the way, New York's universal healthcare act is no modified Obamacare. This is real universal healthcare: it comes out of taxes, and it covers everybody. No deductibles, out-of-pocket payments, or copayments.
The RAND Corporation conducted a study on the plan recently. It found the plan could "expand coverage without substantial increases in overall health care spending," writes the RAND Corporation. Lower income folks would pay less than they do now, and higher incomes folks would pay more. But overall, in the long term, healthcare spending should decrease overall, thanks to getting rid of middleman insurance companies and high administrative costs.
If it passes — and that's still up in the air, of course, particularly since the governor hasn't signed on — it could be big news, and not just for the state. New York is the fourth largest state in the country. It also has the highest income inequality of all the states in the country. That means most of its residents have a lot to gain from universal healthcare, and a minority of extremely wealthy residents have a lot to lose. If New York can pull off universal healthcare, other states might follow.
In fact, last night, three red states voted to expand Medicaid. Residents of Nebraska, Idaho, and Utah are apparently thinking along similar lines as New Yorkers. Universal healthcare is starting to look a lot less partisan.
So that's big news for health, and it's also big news for air quality. The healthcare industry today is a massive drag on the environment. Ironically, the industry designed to make us healthier creates acid rain, greenhouse gas emissions, smog formation, air pollutants, ozone depletion, and carcinogenic air toxics.
"The fundamental tenet of health care practice is ‘Do no harm,’ but ironically, the practice of health care itself causes significant pollution, and, consequently, indirect adverse effects on public health," wrote scientists studying the topic in PLOS One. "Concerted efforts to improve environmental performance of health care could reduce expenditures directly through waste reduction and energy savings, and indirectly through reducing pollution burden on public health, and ought to be included in efforts to improve health care quality and safety."
Right now, health care is a private industry, so its hard to get pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to do things like reduce waste and save energy. But with universal healthcare, the companies would have to start listening, because they would have one powerful customer: the government.
Even without passing any laws, if the government so much as mentioned that it preferred companies that polluted less, companies would race to pollute less. With universal healthcare, these changes could start happening almost immediately.