OPINION: One of the Largest Free Healthcare Clinics in the Country Proves We Need a Single Payer System

by Susan Fried

The fifth Seattle/King County Clinic starts Thursday September 20 at KeyArena. More than 4,000 people will descend on Seattle Center seeking free medical, vision, and dental care over the four days of the clinic. According to the Clinic’s website, the clinic has provided 16,300 patients with almost $14 million in direct services given by more than 13,800 volunteers over the past four years. This is an incredible accomplishment, and I am even considering getting in line myself on September 20 for some vision or dental care because neither are covered under my incredibly expensive health insurance policy.

Why should 4,000 people have to wait in long lines for healthcare in one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in the world? I remember as a child watching news magazine shows like 60 Minutes airing stories about Doctors Without Borders working in poor countries and offering free healthcare to people. Now clinics like this are necessary in the United States of America. Healthcare is too expensive and often inaccessible for millions of Americans. This clinic proves that the United States needs a single-payer system.

Free Clinic 2017 -6 glasses-1.jpg
A volunteer helps fit a patient with glasses at the 2017 Seattle/King County Clinic. (Photo: Susan Fried)

I care deeply about healthcare and have for as long as I can remember, even before I grew older and realized the necessity of having access to affordable healthcare. Why does almost every other nation in the world with a stable economy provide their citizens with affordable and more importantly accessible healthcare? No matter where you come down on the issue of whether healthcare is a human right or not — I believe it is a human right — the exorbitant price of insurance and out of pocket expenses has to make every American want some serious change in our dysfunctional system.

I support a single-payer healthcare system. Our current for profit health insurance based system wastes huge amounts of money on administrative costs and profit. According to Physicians for a National Healthcare Plan “Despite spending more than twice as much as the rest of the industrialized nations ($8,160 per capita), the United States performs poorly in comparison on major health indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization rates. Moreover, the other advanced nations provide comprehensive coverage to their entire populations, while the U.S. leaves 51 million completely uninsured and millions more inadequately covered.”

The cost of healthcare continues to rise and although the Affordable Care Act addressed some access questions — such as not allowing the health insurance industry to cruelly deny sick people with pre-existing conditions insurance and allowing parents’ insurance to cover their children until they reach the age of 26, it did very little to address the increasingly unaffordable costs of healthcare in the United States.

I want a national conversation about what makes a for-profit health insurance system like ours, superior to single-payer system, such as that found in Canada or elsewhere in the world that eliminate the profit seekers and administrative costs and use that money to actually take care of sick people.

Free Clinic 2017 -4-1
A patient receives dental care during the 2017 Seattle/King County Clinic. (Photo: Susan Fried)

People ask, “How will we pay for it?” We could start by taking the ridiculous premiums that those lucky enough to have insurance pay into the system and use that. Just think, instead of spending $8,160 per capita, we spent half that much with no copays and no deductibles and every American could have access to healthcare. A single-payer system would give people more freedom of choice: rather than being limited to the “preferred providers” insurance companies force us to use, we could go to any doctor or any hospital we wanted and not risk additional charges.

Under a single-payer system, a person wouldn’t be forced to continue to work at a job that they didn’t like for fear of losing their health insurance. Businesses would benefit from no longer having to deal with their employees healthcare benefits. The stress of losing everything to medical bankruptcy would go away. People try to argue that you would wait longer for services with a single-payer healthcare system. “Just ask a Canadian,” they say. I suggest instead you ask a Canadian if they would trade the system they currently have. While some may wait for health care in Canada, people in the U.S. without insurance can wait a very long time, sometimes so long that it kills them. People are already waiting in long lines this weekend to get healthcare that the United States system has been unable to provide.

At a time when support for a Single Payer system is at an all-time high — even among Republicans — and healthcare becomes increasingly unattainable for millions and millions of Americans, it is time to re-evaluate how we do healthcare in America. I just want someone to tell me, what’s so good about our current system? Maybe if I make it to the clinic this weekend and I’m waiting in line, someone might answer that question. We’ll have a lot of time while we’re waiting to discuss the merits of a system based on profit versus one based on the idea that access to healthcare is a human right.  

Featured image: Thousands of people received dental care during the 2017 Seattle/King County Clinic. (Photo: Susan Fried)

INFO for People interested in utilizing the clinic:

Seattle/King County Clinic – Patient Information

“These four days in KeyArena were a haven of humanity and compassion at its best. The message to me was very clear, hope in a hurting world. Thank you for that hope and easing my suffering and the suffering of so many people in need.” – Clinic Patient

Seattle/King County Clinic is a volunteer-driven free clinic for people in need that occurs for four days each year in KeyArena at Seattle Center. Tickets are distributed each day on a first-come, first-served basis, for people seeking dental, vision and/or medical care. The next Clinic is September 20 – 23, 2018.

About the 2018 Clinic:

  • All are welcome! Patients DO NOT need ID or proof of immigration status
  • Limited number of admission tickets distributed at 5:00 AM each day in the tent on Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center (corner of 2nd Ave N & Thomas St)
  • One ticket per person, good for that day only
  • Tent opens at 12:30 AM each day
  • Patents admitted to Clinic in KeyArena starting at 6:30 AM in ticket number order
  • Highest demand for tickets is Saturday & Sunday
  • No advance registration: FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED
  • Patients cannot receive dental and vision care in the same day
  • FREE PARKING in two locations:
    • 1st Ave Garage, 220 1st Ave N
    • Mercer St. Garage, 650 3rd Ave N
  • Come prepared for a long day with food, comfortable clothing, and any daily medications
  • See flyers linked below for additional details

Learn more:

Access resources:

For additional information, contact:

  • SKCClinic@seattlecenter.org
  • 206-684-7200


One thought on “OPINION: One of the Largest Free Healthcare Clinics in the Country Proves We Need a Single Payer System”