oI’ve been thinking about turning 26 for several years now.
To any non-Americans reading this, that might sound a bit strange. After all, 26 might be an age that many people start to experience their first aches and pains, but it’s also an age that people still laugh at you when you try to complain about said aches and pains. And yet, what should be nothing more than another formal reminder that I’m aging is something else entirely.
It’s the age I lose my parent’s health insurance.
I’ve already had a few tastes of this reality (a recent trip to the dentist required me to pay out of pocket, although my dental coverage is so bad this wasn’t much more than I expected), but 26 is the age when things become official. As I’m a freelancer, I’m now faced with a dilemma. Do I pay an absurdly high monthly payment for a plan that covers next to nothing? Or do I eat my vegetables, take a multivitamin, and hope that I don’t get sick?
To understand why being uninsured and underinsured is a reality for myself and tens of millions of other Americans, I decided to crack into the topic a bit.
A brief look at the history of healthcare in America
The idea that institutions like governments or businesses should provide health insurance to people was a novel in the 20th century. So much so that by 1920, only 16 European countries had such a system.
Around that time, the demand for health insurance was low. Medical technology was rudimentary at best, and because of that, the public didn’t trust it. Most sick people received treatment at home instead of at local hospitals.
However, as medical technology advanced, the idea of receiving professional medical care became more accepted. Whereas a hospital visit might have been a death sentence in the past, people started to associate doctors with saving lives instead of taking them. At the same time, urban houses were becoming smaller and smaller. Households that had the space to cater to sick family members before now struggled to do so. Receiving medial treatment outside of the house became the only option for many.
In 1929, Blue Cross launched the first insurance plan in the United States. This covered 21 days’ worth of hospitalization at a fixed rate of $6 per year, providing people with a safety net in case of emergency.
While health insurance enrollment started out slow, insurance plans gained popularity over the next couple of decades. By the ’40s and ’50s, enrollment began to skyrocket.
Businesses began to understand that offering health insurance was a great way to entice people to work with them. Over the next few decades, the relationship between employment and health insurance grew stronger.
It wasn’t until 2010 that the U.S. finally expanded healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act. While ACA helped tens of millions of Americans (including myself), it’s faced steep opposition from the start. The Supreme Court shot down the most recent attempt to overturn it in June of this year.
Get a job!
On paper, working for healthcare doesn’t sound like too bad of a deal. You can argue that healthcare is a human right and that it’s cruel to deny it from people, but provided you can find a full-time job, you should have no problem getting the coverage you need.
Of course, the reality is quite different. Many Americans (myself included) can’t find jobs that offer healthcare. Often, this isn’t because the jobs we end up taking are for “unskilled workers”. It’s because businesses know that providing health care and other benefits to employees will affect their bottom line.
Companies like Uber and Amazon have made headlines in recent months for their crackdown on workers attempting to unionize. Besides demanding a livable wage and enough time to use the bathroom, many workers are also fighting for healthcare.
Businesses hire people as “gig-workers” or freelancers because they know that doing so gets them out of having to support them. As of 2017, gig workers made up 43% of the U.S. workforce. Today, around half of all American workers are freelancers.
On top of that, many companies also classify the workers they hire as part-time. Even if an employee ends up working the equivalent of a full-time workweek, keeping them around as a part-time employee prevents the company from having to offer healthcare and other benefits.
A private healthcare system doesn’t work when you have businesses doing everything in their power to avoid having to provide insurance.
The Big Pharma problem
While it’s bad enough that people have to live without health insurance, Big Pharma makes the situation even more difficult. As its insidious-sounding name suggests, Big Pharma refers to the global pharmaceutical industry and, in recent years, how a group of companies hold the health and wellbeing of the world in their hands.
Through patents and other legalities, companies are able to charge high prices for drugs that people need to survive. This includes everything from Humira, which helps treat arthritis, to Lantus, which treats diabetes. As is the case with many parts of our healthcare system, this is another distinctly American problem. One quick look at drug prices can tell you that.
Pharmaceutical companies are smart enough to recognize that if the average American knew how much they price gauge, they’d be ruined. Because of that, they’ve perpetuated the idea that drug prices reflect medical breakthroughs.
Congresswoman Katie Porter has gone viral several times for using a whiteboard to confront CEOs and other business executives. In one particularly memorable exchange, Porter confronted the CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Abbvie.
As Porter explains, only a fraction of the company’s multi-billion dollar budget goes towards R&D. The vast majority of it goes to board members and other executives—people who have no qualms about enriching themselves through denying others the medication they need.
“The Big Pharma fairytale is one of groundbreaking R&D that justifies astronomical prices. But the Pharma reality is that you spend most of your company’s money making money for yourself and your shareholders.”
Where we go from here
As I’ve discussed in past articles, politicians and the media often make certain issues seem like divisive topics. Every time Medicare for All gets brought up on the news, we hear arguments from “both sides”.
Someone on the Left claims that healthcare is a human right, and someone on the Right responds that universal healthcare is too expensive and that Americans don’t want to spend their money paying for other people’s healthcare. The panelists agree to disagree (or the debate spirals into something messy), and the host thanks them both.
While these sorts of verbal boxing matches can be fun, they create the illusion that many people are still unsure how they feel towards certain issues, Medicare for All included.
The reality is that most Americans support Medicare for All and that levels of support are only growing. I’d be willing to bet that if people knew more about universal healthcare and vile mouthpieces stopped using buzzwords like “socialism”, even more people would be open to it.
Either way, having people against healthcare accessibility on the news is akin to inviting flat Earthers on air. The vast majority of people recognize that the planet is round, so why should we waste time giving a ludicrous minority a platform?
Nearly 70% of Americans support Medicare for All in some way, shape, or form, and as mentioned, many of those who don’t just lack an understanding of the topic. So why do we keep hearing that people who supposedly represent the will of the people are so vehemently against universal healthcare?
The arguments against Medicare for All
Media pundits and politicians aside, it’s important to recognize that many of those nervous about Medicare for All do come from places of sincerity. The reality is, however, that their fears are usually exaggerated, inaccurate, and come from people who do know better.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most common arguments against expanding healthcare coverage.
Medicare for All is expensive
This is a common concern that everyone from ordinary people to so-called “liberal progressive socialist Marxist” presidents seem to share. People worry that a universal healthcare system like Medicare for All would cause the average American to pay more in taxes.
The unfortunate reality is that our current healthcare system is the most expensive in the developed world. Between private insurance premiums, co-pays, and other fees, the average U.S. citizen pays around twice the amount of what people in other countries pay.
But with higher costs comes better results, right? Not exactly.
Besides having the highest costs in the developed world, the U.S. also ranks near the bottom of healthcare efficacy. Essentially, the average American citizen pays (much) more for less.
On account of its fractured healthcare system, the U.S. has a declining life expectancy, comparatively high levels of infant and maternal mortality rates, and high levels of medical error. Medicare for All could help combat all of those issues while still lowering costs for the average person.
Lengthy wait times
I’ve heard many people claim that universal healthcare causes wait times to increase. After all, if everyone can visit the doctor or the dentist without having to fork over thousands of dollars, won’t it just make healthcare less accessible?
The irony of this fear is that wait times for American doctors are already long—especially when it comes to seeing certain medical professionals. If you haven’t ever been to a dermatologist, try scheduling an appointment with one after finishing this article. Short of demanding that they check out that suspicious mole on your chest, there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait several weeks or even months to get in.
According to data collected by the OECD, the U.S. ranks on the higher side for healthcare wait times. While some countries with universal healthcare systems like Canada do too, lengthy wait times are already a reality for many Americans. It’s therefore not a valid argument against expanding coverage.
Universal healthcare is socialism
Decades of McCarthyism have caused socialism to become a buzzword used by people who, most of the time, don’t know what it means. While I don’t expect everyone to go and read socialist literature, I do hope that people can refrain from using Facebook memes as their source of information.
Socialism is an economic system where the means of production are in the hands of the people. Leftists have been debating the exact definition for centuries, but most would agree that creating an equitable society is the long-term goal. They’d also agree that the Soviet Union, Venezuela, and other commonly-cited examples of “socialist” countries aren’t worth emulating.
It’s worth noting that most European politicians, Bernie Sanders, and yes—even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are not socialists. They’re social democrats who support a watered-down, less-buzzwordy version of socialism that meshes with a free market system.
While the United States remains a shining beacon of capitalism for the world, the reality is that our society has many socialist policies we take for granted. Here are just a few of them:
- Public schools
- Community colleges
- Mass transit systems
- The United States Postal Service
- The five-day work-week
- Child labor laws
- Any labor law
You’ll notice that none of these institutions, laws, or policies are profit-motivated. In fact, they’re often at odds with what greedy corporations and individuals would like, yet we keep them regardless since we know they improve people’s lives. Medicare for All would do the same thing, so don’t fall for the “it’s socialism” line. Don’t let people use their faulty understanding of an economic system as an excuse to end talks of giving people healthcare.
It’s Time for a Change
No matter what metric you look at, it’s clear that our healthcare system needs a revamp. It’s also clear that many of the arguments used to defend it in its current state don’t hold up.
I don’t want to live in a country where myself and millions of others have to put our health on the line to avoid having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars. I don’t want to live in a country where private insurance companies and Big Pharma get to enrich themselves while real people suffer and die as a result.
If the wealthiest country on Earth can’t provide even the most basic of services to its citizens, it needs a reality check.
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