Not too long ago, I struck up a conversation while waiting in line at the pharmacy counter. The woman I spoke to was middle-aged, with brown hair and tired eyes. This was around the peak of media controversy about the ACHA, so we ended up chatting about our respective positions on the matter. As it turns out, she was a severe diabetic – and when I say “diabetic,” I don’t mean that she needed to watch her candy intake and opt for the smallest slice of pie. Her diabetes was such that she was unable to eat a handful of crackers without spiking her blood sugar and passing out.
Needless to say, she couldn’t live without insulin. But her insurance covered almost nothing, and she didn’t qualify for any hardy Medicaid plans. She admitted that this year, she was so disillusioned that she opted for the lowest-cost plan available and paid most of her insulin expenses with out-of-pocket funds; after crunching the numbers, she had realized that the costs came out comparably.
Think about that. Our healthcare system is so unsatisfactory that someone with a serious preexisting condition is resigned to paying most of her considerable health care costs on her own because doing so would actually be cheaper than relying on a state or private insurance plan. Her scenario is an uncomfortable illustration of the problems inherent in the current iteration of the American healthcare system.
But this issue goes beyond one woman waiting in line at a pharmacy counter. According to statistics provided in 2015 by the Commonwealth Fund, the US has lower average lifespans, higher infant mortality rates, and drug prices that are often twice those found in comparably wealthy countries in Europe. To offer a not-unrelated observation: the United States is also one of the only industrially-advanced nations without universal health care.
Health care reform is a hot-button issue, and heated discussion immediately erupts whenever someone suggests implementing a universal health care system for Americans. Personally, I wholeheartedly believe that we should have a universal framework for our medical care – but there are others that just as vehemently oppose it. Let’s consider the issue.
A system that offers universal health care is defined by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development as one that allows everyone “access to good quality health services without suffering financial hardship.”
Without suffering financial hardship. Those last four words are important.
A recent study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found that not only did the average American spend a full 10% of their income on health insurance deductibles and premiums, but that health care costs are rising at a faster clip than wages; in years to come, pricey healthcare costs are projected to eat up an even larger percentage of American incomes. Needless to say, this system is not sustainable in the long run – even with the AHCA thankfully shelved, our current healthcare structure is untenable, and does constitute a “financial hardship” to residents.
But, one might argue, with the American people paying such a large portion of their health care expenses, government spending must at least be lower – right? Wrong. Recent statistics show that most countries in Europe pay significantly less per capita than the US. And yet, arguments against instating a universal system stateside often skew around high government spending on nationwide healthcare. It’s a counterintuitive and confusing point, to say the least.
To continue reading, check out Part 2!