Americans have debated health-care reform for generations, and the COVID-19 crisis has further intensified that debate. But according to John Geyman ’52, one piece of the puzzle should have been resolved long before “coronavirus” entered the national lexicon: Medicare for All.
“We would have had a better system, but number two, you wouldn’t have to worry about having the right insurance to go get tested and to get treated. So if we had Medicare for All, those wouldn’t be barriers to care,” he says.
Geyman has been an unwavering advocate for a government-run, single-payer healthcare system. His commitment to led him to Physicians for a National Health Program, a group of doctors who support it. A member for over 20 years, he served as the organization’s president from 2005-2007 and has seen a growing number of physicians support its policies.
“The students, the medical students, are very much in favor,” he says. The Medical Student Section of the American Medical Association has pushed the association to end its opposition to Medicare for All, and in Geyman’s view, doctors would benefit from a single-payer system.
“The percentage of practicing docs — by the way, two thirds of them now, almost two thirds work for others, mostly hospital systems — and they’re under the thumb to see more patients and up-code,” he explains, adding that under Medicare for All, “they’d have more time for patient care, which is what they went into medicine for.”
When Geyman graduated from Princeton, he didn’t anticipate a career in medicine. After studying geology and completing NROTC training, he spent three years during the Korean War on a destroyer in the Pacific Ocean.
When he returned, he became interested in medicine and completed pre-med studies at the University of California. During his time practicing family medicine in rural parts of California and Washington, he realized the role of politics in health care.
“I became interested in systems right away in rural practice,” Geyman says. “We had a problem with our ambulance system in our rural system back in the ’60s there, and it was a political challenge to get four rural towns to get together and fix that problem.”
Geyman believes that politics and profiteering lie at the root of the American health-care system’s challenges. He contends that Medicare for All would address these challenges more effectively than any solution that preserves private insurance.
“Any of those public options, they’ll leave the private insurance industry in place, which is what’s ripping us off so big. It’ll keep a huge bureaucracy, mostly around billing us. And it won’t have any savings that Medicare for All will do as a single-payer, national health-care system,” says Geyman.
For rural care and family medicine, Geyman believes that Medicare for All would address funding and personnel shortfalls by establishing regional planning for underserved areas, bolstering family medicine, and increasing funding to rural hospitals.
“Right now, rural is a real problem — not just hospital, but enough physicians and other health professionals, and pharmacies,” he adds.
While the American response to COVID-19 may have been hamstrung by the private insurance system, Geyman believes that Medicare for All will gain support as a result of the crisis.
“I think that this pandemic is going to make it obvious, more obvious to most people, that we really need it,” he says.