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How COVID-19 Exposes the Need for Universal Healthcare

If I were to describe my entire political belief system in a single phrase, I would declare that I am “pro-human from conception to grave.”

I am strongly in favor of preserving life at all stages of development: from conception to birth, from childhood to adulthood, and from old age to death. I believe it is the role of government to ensure that every citizen is afforded a chance to obtain the great economic opportunities that exist within our society, which includes providing every American with affordable healthcare.

Healthcare is one of the most heated political issues in the United States. What many do not realize is that a solid healthcare system is key for keeping peace within our society, as well as the preservation of individual health.

Imagine how quickly our government would shatter if a second black plague infected the majority of our citizens? Hospitals would shut down. Martial law would have to be enacted. Our social contract would be voided.

Therefore, an affordable, effective and accessible system built to encourage the prevention of illness benefits society as a whole, not just an individual and their loved ones.

Many people on the left side of the political spectrum believe healthcare is an essential government service and feel that all American citizens should be guaranteed access to affordable treatments.

They argue the United States should implement a single-payer healthcare system, which is when the costs of medical services are funded by a single money pool of taxpayer dollars, and covers every resident via one single payer system, much like the current system for military veterans who are covered one hundred percent by the VA hospital system.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Healthcare Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2017, About 28.5 million people in our country go without health insurance, which equates to 8.8% of the population of the United States being uninsured. And according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) inHealth at a Glance in 2017: OCED Indicators, the United States was one of only six countries out of the 36 members of the group that has not implemented a universal health care system.

As a teenager, not only do I vehemently support the idea of a universal right to health care for all American citizens, it’s also very hard for me to understand why we did not implement a single-payer system years ago, particularly during the recovery following The Great Depression.

It is easy for anyone to point out that as a young man who has never had a job, or the need to pay taxes or medical bills, that my understanding of the complex economic issues behind healthcare may evade me, but still, it is hard to comprehend how the most prosperous nation in the world was outdone by countries like Australia, Canada, England, Spain, Italy, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, Norway, and Portugal who somehow all figured out how to pay for universal healthcare, while we still have not.

Our government’s duty is to provide guaranteed quality healthcare is second only to its duty to provide national security. It is undoubtedly the most important social service any government can provide. Moreover, I have studied the economics behind various single-payer proposals and believe the United States will actually spend less money on healthcare if we guarantee the right to it. Public health will improve. Medical bankruptcies will disappear. Small businesses will benefit from not having to pay high insurance premiums for employees.

The opposition to this issue argues that if we implement a single-payer healthcare system, America could strive more towards the path of socialism (an ideology greatly feared by American conservatives), taxes would raise sky-high, medical services will be rationed, and that healthcare services will be overused. Yet, despite this, I still advocate implementing a universal health care system. Sure, there is some validity in these arguments, yet I cannot fathom how the cons of a single-payer healthcare system could ever outweigh the advantages.

More importantly, since we would not be the first country to implement universal healthcare, we could easily study the systems of Australia, Canada, England, Spain, Italy, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, Norway, and Portugal, to name a few, and learn from their mistakes. Create a better system. Avoid the pitfalls. In this case, being last to the party is to our advantage so we create a far superior system that will serve as the model others would replicate.

To be fair, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, do indeed have a few examples of how universal coverage causes countries to ration medical services. According to Health Care Rationing is Nothing Newby Beatrix Hoffman, these countries use methods such as controlled distribution, price setting, budgeting, and service restrictions to maintain costs.

The publicly funded national health care system in the United Kingdom called the National Health Service (NHS), sharply restricts access to medical procedures and services such as hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, and prescription drugs to deal with widespread health issues such as diabetes or arthritis.

And overall, average workers in European countries pay much higher taxes than in America. Payroll taxes average 37% in Europe, while a common worker in the United States pays around 15% according to Paul Roderick Gregory of Forbesmagazine. But in my opinion, this number is misleading. If one were to combine the percentage of payroll taxes, cost of monthly insurance premiums, and yearly medical costs, the overall percentage of income would more than likely be higher than 37%, especially if a person is facing major illness.

As previously mentioned, the United States already has a single-payer health care system in one form. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) provides for eligible military veterans at various medical centers and outpatient clinics, near-comprehensive medical services, and also provides memorial and burial benefits to eligible veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it is the largest integrated health care system, with 1,062 outpatient sites and 172 VA medical centers. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 18.2 million veterans living in the United States, and more than 9 million military veterans are served by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although there are exceptions, the Veterans Health Administration is generally a helpful, efficient government institution that—according to CNN’S website as of September 2018—President Donald Trump requested a $12.1 billion increase over 2018 with an appropriation of $198.6 billion for the department in the 2019 fiscal budget.

My step-father (whom I refer to as my Dad) and two of my grandfathers are all veterans who sing praises about the VA system. This past November, my Dad had a blood sugar spike causing him to pass out while swimming in the ocean. Luckily, my mother was able to pull him to safety and he was sent to our local hospital instead of the VA hospital several miles away due to its proximity to the beach and the urgency of the situation.

My Dad, who served twenty-years and earned over twenty medals in the United States Navy, spent a total of four hours in the hospital and was sent home the same evening. I was by his side the entire time, and with the exception of a few blood tests and a CAT scan to check for a concussion, he did not receive any treatment for his near-drowning. He didn’t even occupy a hospital bed overnight, yet our family incurred a bill for $24,000—the equivalent cost of a brand-new car that would provide transportation for ten years, was spent in only four hours.

Within days, bill collectors began calling my dad, mistakenly thinking he was uninsured. Fortunately, my family is in a good economic position and contemplated paying the bill in full to end the harassing calls, but the VA administration quickly picked up the entire tab, ending my family’s stress immediately. That is when I realized how a single-payer system can be a game changer in the right direction.

After the 2014 political scandal within the Veterans Health Administration, some on the right side of the political spectrum have suggested the VA should compete with private enterprises for veterans’ healthcare. They believe that by letting the money follow the veteran, it will create more transparency and more accountability. They believe that by giving vouchers and allowing veterans to decide if they are going to receive care from a private entity or the VA hospital, it would put the power in the hands of the customer. And some would flat out suggest we fully privatize the whole system.

Take, for instance, former GOP presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, who now serves as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. During his 2016 presidential campaign, he supported eradicating all VA medical programs and establishing medical vouchers that any veteran in the country could use to receive private medical services.

There are many flaws with this model, however. The bedrock problem of privatization is that our country would be placing valuable resources into the profit-driven private sector, which would eventually lead to profit-minded competitive advertising that would cause the VA hospital system to die on a vine. It would be like asking people whether they would like a hundred-dollar gift card from Amazon or the post office. In fact, re-directing public resources to the private sector would ensure higher prices, shortcuts in service, and the eradication of profitless treatments.

Also, veterans experience many ailments outside doctors are unfamiliar with such as burn pit exposure and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The private sector would be less prepared to help the devastating bodily injuries caused by IED bombs, or provide the physical and emotional rehabilitation required. Poor veterans with complex needs are expensive patients most for-profit entities would not be happy to serve, no matter how many vouchers are presented.

Many would agree that veterans do not deserve second-rate health services. They do not deserve homelessness, or the lack of mental health, or the lack of substance abuse treatment. Which is why it is important to note that most of the attacks on the VA during the 2014 scandal may have been fueled by corporate-sponsored affiliates charged with destroying the credibility of a government-run program that provides, for the most part, “excellent care at low cost,” as Paul Krugman describes it. This, by some readers, may be highly speculative and reactionary, but as with many other things in our society, financial gain is usually the most logical motive behind any white-collar crime.

The indisputable fact is that the United States of America is the only wealthy, industrialized nation in the world to not ensure free healthcare for all. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017, the United States spends 18% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year on healthcare, as compared to Turkey which spends a mere 4.2% by providing free healthcare to all of its citizens.

The reason we fear change, is that much like slavery, we have mistakenly built an entire economy dependent on the denial of a human right. If we were to switch overnight to a single-payer system, thousands of people associated with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will suffer economic loss, and for this reason, we must be careful in the way we implement the new system. But again, like the moral imperative to end slavery, it must be done.

Now, several moderate presidential candidates have suggested we implement both a public and private healthcare option, very similar to what we do with our educational system. This idea sounds wonderful on paper, and will probably do very well in the polls, but in order for a public healthcare system to work, it must have millions of healthy individuals to offset the cost of those who are severely ill.

A single-payer healthcare system is the only way our government will have the leverage to keep the costs of prescription drugs, screenings, tests, and treatments very low. And although optional services such as cosmetic surgery will always remain private, the majority of our attention and tax dollars should go to one system that we all demand must succeed.

Similarly, within the same zip code, both the wealthy and poor share the same publicly-funded police department, emergency services, and fire services. No one is advocating we split those services into private and public because it works. A public hospital serving all residents will work as well.

Right now, the complexity of a multi-payer basis of our current system is a problem for all Americans. As stated in Bernie Sanders’ book, Our Revolution, “We outspend all other countries on our health, and our medical spending continues to grow faster than the rate of inflation.” Furthermore, he found that, “The United States currently spends $3.2 trillion on health care each year—about $10,000 per person.”

Ten thousand dollars a person? Where does that money even go?

The United Kingdom—a country with over 67 million people—has implemented in its government a right to healthcare. According to the U.K. Office for National Statistics, the United Kingdom spent 9.6% of its GDP in 2017 on healthcare, which is nearly half of what America spends.

According to the American Journal of Public Health, Canada also spends half as much per capita on providing medical services as the United States.

For years, the WHO ranked French universal healthcare as the best in the world. And despite healthcare costs in France being considered high in European standards, in 2017, it spent 11.3% of its GDP on healthcare, or $5,370 per capita. Government funded agencies cover nearly 80% of all health expenditures.

In Switzerland, where healthcare is also universal, there are no free government-provided medical services. Private health insurance is mandatory for all people residing in Switzerland. And despite the fact it spends 12.2% of its GDP on healthcare, it’s still only the second highest in the world.

Over and over again, other countries have clearly demonstrated ways to reduce healthcare expenditures, yet politicians often cite the “unimaginable cost” of a single-payer system as being the one barrier to implementation. Our Revolution reports that a family of four under Senator Sanders’ plan could save over $5,800 just by requiring $466 annually to be paid to a single-payer healthcare plan.

There are other economic benefits to implementing universal healthcare in the United States, yet rarely are they mentioned on the campaign trail.

According to the Institute of Medicine in Hidden Costs, Value Lost: Uninsurance in America, our economy loses around $65-$130 billion a year as worker productivity diminishes due to premature deaths and poor health standards among the uninsured. According to a study conducted in March 2012, researchers at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Colorado proposed that insured workers miss an average of 4.7 fewer days than those who are uninsured.

Additionally, establishing a universal right to healthcare would benefit small businesses by significantly reducing employee-related costs. According to “Number of Americans Obtaining Health Insurance through an Employer Declines Steadily Since 2000” by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, around 59.5% of Americans currently receive medical insurance through their employer.

The implementation of a universal right to healthcare in the United States would mean private businesses would no longer be obligated to pay their share for employee healthcare premiums, which the Business Coalition for Single-Payer Healthcare claims would reduce employer costs by 10-12% overall. Even Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, reported in the previously mentioned book, Our Revolution, that the mean yearly costs to the employer for a worker with a family who makes $50,000 annually would decrease from $12,591 to $3,100.

Because of our multi-payer system, the United States is inherently at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace. Employers who must share the burden of insurance premiums must charge more for goods sold. It would also encourage and promote entrepreneurship as many people are hesitant to start their own businesses for dread of losing their health coverage at their existing jobs.

Most importantly, medical bankruptcies would literally disappear if we implement universal medical coverage.

In February 2019, a CNBC article found that 66.5% of all U.S. bankruptcies were tied to medical expenses. The same study found that an estimated 530,000 families turn to bankruptcy each year because of healthcare debt. Millions of people across the country are being harassed by collection agencies about unpaid medical bills, and unlike student loans or credit card debt, the individual did not knowingly sign up for it.

According to a nationwide Bankrate survey, nearly one in three U.S. families decided not to seek medical care for fear of high deductibles and overall costs.

At one time, universal healthcare was a highly popular idea among the American people. In 2018, Reuters conducted a poll that found 70% of Americans supported Medicare for All. But by the spring of 2020, heavy political advertising convinced the public that it was a deadly move towards socialism, and more moderate presidential candidates were ahead of progressive contenders in the polls.

As a teenager, it is most difficult to watch adults vote against their best interests due to propaganda-like messaging in the mass media. I personally know of a family struggling financially, unable to retire, with a Go Fund Me page to raise money for a major health procedure, yet they actively campaign for the one candidate who is dead set against universal healthcare. I have watched people on welfare vote against candidates who advocate raising the minimum wage because of their fear of socialism, and victims of gun violence vote for candidates who are fully backed by the NRA.

This is how bizarre modern elections have become. We have placed identity politics and ideology, above direct benefits and common sense.

For example, on March 9, 2020, former Vice President, Joe Biden, said on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnellthat a single-payer healthcare system would cost 35 trillion dollars a year, and we could never afford that.

Thirty-five trillion dollars a year? That’s fourteen trillion dollars more than our annual GDP.

How is it possible that Australia, Canada, England, Spain, Italy, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, Norway, and Portugal can all spend less than 12% of their annual GDP on healthcare, yet we will spend 67% morethan our annual GDP?

Why would our universal healthcare cost more than any other country in the world? Aren’t we the kings of capitalist innovation? Doesn’t that make us the masters of reducing costs and expenses? Apparently, America has done a poor job at teaching math to the average citizen otherwise everyone would see the fallacy in that reasoning.

In addition, a recent peer-reviewed study by Yale University found that single-payer healthcare would save the United States $450 billion dollars annually, yet on the campaign trail, the cost is always in the “unaffordable” high trillions.

Joe Biden was, however, part of a previous step in the right direction.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), more commonly known as Obamacare, was a significant attempt towards establishing universal coverage of medical care in the United States.

Although signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, the law’s major provisions did not take effect until 2014. According to the Congressional Budget Office, as many as 24 million additional people were covered with insurance through this act, but the mandatory stipulation to obtain health insurance was repealed in 2017 by President Donald Trump.

The reason for this is that insurance premiums for some middle and upper-class families were still outrageously priced, and it was less expensive to pay a one percent income tax penalty than it was to enroll in the Obamacare sanctioned plan. For example, my mother received a quote of $1,666 a month to cover our small family, coupled with an $8,000 annual deductible, so like millions of other Americans, she decided to pay out of pocket for medical expenses and hope for the best.

Obamacare did however slow down the rise of health care costs. According to The Balance, in 2004, the price increase of healthcare services was 4 percent. In the year 2016, it was 1.2 percent—a 2.8 percent reduction in price increases. More importantly, the PPACA has prohibited insurance companies from declining coverage for people who have pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies are now unable to drop beneficiaries or increase their premiums if they get sick for whatever reason. Yet this provision is under attack on Capitol Hill nearly every day.

The PPACA also demands that all insurance plans cover essential health benefits, including treatment for addiction, chronic diseases, and mental health issues. This benefits all taxpayers because without these crucial services, many uninsured would end up in the ER, thus charging Medicaid.

In short, Obamacare has done many positive things since its implementation. It has made health insurance more affordable for millions, and has given patients a more flexible range of coverage option choices.

But as I write this, the novel Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) has emerged onto the global scene. In just three months from its discovery, the world has literally closed down. And while other countries are taking action and testing its citizens by the thousands, Congress is at this very moment debating on how we will pay for testing and treatment, because the harsh reality is that 40% of all Americans do not even have $400 of emergency funds at their disposal.

Again, our government’s duty to protect public health is second only to its duty to provide national security. A global pandemic like COVID-19 is just a dress rehearsal. It’s a wake-up call. And if after this crisis, voters fail to recognize the overriding need for allpeople to receive quality healthcare in an effort to keep the entire country healthy, I do not know what will.

We took a huge step with the implementation of Obamacare. Now, it is time we make the giant leap towards universal healthcare coverage for all Americans.

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