Health care may not be a human right, but the lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unjustifiable, and unnecessary human wrong.
If Americans will come together and support one another in having universal healthcare, we can lift this worry from our fellow citizens. It requires us not to be "blue" or "red" - but to be human. It requires us to give a damn about the suffering of others. It requires us to understand that most of us are just lucky - and could simply be 1 scan away from a medical diagnosis that could bankrupt our family. Great healthcare should not only be for the rich. It should be accessible to every American.
If we will unify as the people - saying that we expect nothing less than equal access to afforable healthcare - regardless of age or income - we will also discover that we have addressed some other important problems too.
- We will have removed one of the most important barriers to entrepreneurship, because people with bright ideas will fear less to quit the jobs through which they get their health care. They can go make the next discoveries or create the next new companies that create jobs.
- We will have improved the troubled lives of the white working class succumbing at earlier ages from preventable deaths of despair - including the massive opiate epidemic ravaging our country.
- We will have equalized the life chances of Americans of different races. Good basic health is a building block for good citizenship and making a contribution. It's essential to earning a living and caring for one's family.
- We will have discouraged workplace discrimination against women, older Americans, the disabled, and other employees with higher expected health-care costs.
Many critics argue this cannot be done in the U.S. But the US far outpaces every country in both raw spending and spending as a percentage of GDP. The US is nowhere near first place for life expectancy (15th out of 34) or quality of care despite all that spending.
There are 5 major reasons American healthcare costs are so much higher.
- Americans spend 160% more on drugs vs. the Netherlands, and about 36% more than the next-highest-spending countries (Japan and Canada). That’s partly because Americans want a pill for everything, but mostly because the US has generous patent protections for drug makers allowing them to charge high prices.
- The US has a big obesity problem, ranking first in the world. 28.7% of Americans are obese versus 11.8% of people in the Netherlands. (Source above) Obesity costs extra because of weight-related costs like diabetes. Americans over 18 are about 45% more likely to have diabetes. (USA diabetes source, Netherlands diabetes source).
- Hospital costs in the US are the highest in the world at $10,300 per stay. Hospital costs make up 16% of total healthcare costs. In the Netherlands the average hospital stay costs about $4,100. These are primarily administrative costs which include legal staff and expenses (arguably because Americans like to sue each other). Privately-owned US hospitals charge more and also have higher-than-average profit margins.
- Eliminating the middleman in insurance could save the US about $600 billion on current care. (About 5% of GDP)
- The pluralistic health care delivery system in the US is characterized by corporate oligopolies; a few giant firms own and control a majority of the medical delivery systems and the insurers in the nation - and take signficant profits out of healthcare for their firms.
Finally, the math. The total cost of all healthcare in the US today is $2.8 trillion (CBO). The estimated cost with a single-payer universal healthcare system is $2.2 trillion. That is a savings of $600 billion on current costs. There would likely be some increase to demand - research organizations estimte this at about $140 billion. The total cost of US health costs under a universal model would be about $2.3 trillion ($500 Billion less than today). Currently, our government is spending about $1.3 trillion on healthcare (Medicare & Medicaid). If we - as a country - covered 75% of total 2.3 trillion costs, the government's cost would be $1.7 trillion. The extra taxes to do so would be about $400 billion. To put that number in perspective - the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost (already) approximately $2.4 Trillion (CBO/ Reuters). Enough to cover healthcare for every American for 6 years! Add the costs incurred in Pakistan and Syria and we're at $4.8 Trillion (Brown University) - Enough to cover healthcare for every American for 12 years!
There are many ways to address this problem - and there are many ways to get at a great solution - but it requires us to behave as humans - and in the best interest of our country and citizens. It requires us to worry less about who's right and who's wrong and simply say we - in the richest country in the world - are tired of bankrupting 1 in 3 families who get a cancer diagnosis. We are tired of children not having access to healthcare. We will not tolerate the status quo any longer.
And in doing so, we will find that our friends and neighbors feel less alienated from a country that has overcome at last one of the least attractive manifestations of American exceptionalism—and joined the rest of the civilized world in reducing our common human vulnerability to illness and pain.