By Carol Corbin
I lived in Canada for 18 years and learned how wonderful universal healthcare can be. I came to believe what almost all Canadians believe: that healthcare is a human right. Except for the U.S., that belief is echoed in every developed nation on the planet, as well as developing nations like Cuba, Rwanda, and the Philippines.
When I first got to Canada I noticed that my Canadian friends who had small children were taking them to the doctor for very minor ailments. It seemed to me that this was an abuse of the system. But I came to realize that what they and the system were doing was preventive healthcare—a nearly unheard of concept for an American. They weren’t waiting until the children were really sick, they were nipping it in the bud early, and keeping the population healthier as whole. The longer life expectancy and lower healthcare costs in Canada are a testament to its efficacy.
My experiences with the Canadian healthcare system were outstanding. I’d heard that I would have to wait for months and months to get an appointment. That was completely untrue. I heard that the quality was lower, that also was untrue. I began to realize that all the horror stories I had heard about Canada’s universal healthcare system had been concocted by the AMA to keep Americans from demanding a single-payer program.
I know of people here in the U.S. who have been in one of two “locks” because of the American health insurance system. One is the marriage lock. A cousin of mine could not get a divorce when he needed to because his wife would have been left without health insurance. He stayed married for many years to keep her from falling through the cracks. My sister was in a job lock. She had good health insurance where she worked, but she hated her job and it was actually causing her significant health problems. She was too young for Medicare and she was locked into the job indefinitely.
Lack of a national healthcare program creates enormous stress for citizens who are not covered by employer-paid health insurance. In 2013 nearly 2 million people filed for bankruptcy because of unpaid medical bills—62% of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills. Ten million people with health insurance will accumulate medical bills they cannot pay.
Here are arguments I have heard against universal healthcare and fact-based responses to them:
Myth 1: Universal healthcare is welfare
The U.S. prides itself being a free market where individualism is sacred. But many of the most vibrant economies (read, European) combine a free market commercial sector with a strong government that enacts beneficial regulations to protect citizens. At one time, Social Security was called welfare. Now it is a core provision of American government. Of the 33 developed nations, all but the US have universal health care. These nations learned early on that a totally free market approach to healthcare simply does not work.
Over 58% of Americans favor a federally funded, single-payer healthcare system. That was the original plan for Obamacare, but Republicans would not pass it without market involvement. As a result, there were problems with Obamacare that can only be solved by going single-payer.
Myth 2: Quality will decline
Proponents of the current system state that we have the best healthcare system in the world. And we do have excellent doctors, if you can afford them or have quality health insurance. But providing good healthcare for only the wealthy is not an efficient or equitable system. I do not believe that excellent doctors would become less excellent if they worked within a national system. That would presume that many doctors only entered the profession for the big salaries. I’m sure that isn’t true.
In most national healthcare systems, doctors in clinics and the ER are more available than in the US. Therefore, the wait-time argument doesn’t usually hold up. Most arguments against national healthcare are anecdotal and not based on rigorous studies.
In addition, despite very high spending on health, the US ranks 43rd for life expectancy at birth (Monaco, 89.52, US 79.68), and 56th for infant mortality rate (Singapore 2.3/1000; U.S. 6.2/1000). Our overall quality can’t get much lower than it is.
Myth 3: We can’t afford it
Universal healthcare in all countries is cheaper than the American system. In 2010 the US spent $8,233 per person, while the second highest countries paid $3000 less per person. On average, it costs just $3,268 per person to cover all citizens with a single-payer system.
The U.S. spends 2.6 times as much on healthcare as the average European country. Most of the excess is going to health insurance profits and the exorbitant salaries of health insurance CEOs. The two top CEOs of health insurance companies made $17.3 million each in 2015. Even after making over $1.75 billion in 2016, United Health pulled out of ACA due to reduced earnings. In 2012 there were 460,000 people working in health insurance alone.
The only reason anyone can argue that we can’t afford a national healthcare system is because they don’t want to cut into the profits of the health insurance companies or tax the rich. Tax reform is an essential ingredient in making a national healthcare system work. Fair taxation of the wealthy would bring about many benefits: a reduction in the gap between the rich and the poor and the ability to pay for universal healthcare, which would further reduce the gap. In addition, reducing the gap might also bring down crime and make America a safer nation. The wealthiest country in history certainly can afford a universal healthcare system.
Myth 4: Loss of individual choice
This is one of the worst arguments against universal healthcare. The choice people want is access to healthcare. Rich people will still have a choice between this surgeon or that surgeon. But poor people will have healthcare, and that’s the only choice they want. The just desserts argument suggests that people get what they deserve. But nobody wants or deserves to be poor, and using that argument is a cruel answer to a pressing problem. Universal healthcare will make it possible for people without much money to take control of their health and make healthier individual choices, with the guidance of doctors.
On Jan. 17, president-elect Trump stated, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” But what Americans want is not health insurance, although “access to health insurance” is all the President and Congress talk about. What Americans want is healthcare. The only possible way to cover everyone in the U.S. and keep the costs affordable is to remove the health insurance industry from the center of the healthcare system.
It’s time for a change. Let’s demand a single-payer national healthcare program that is compassionate and accessible and that treats everyone as a valuable citizen.
Carol Corbin has a PhD in Communication and taught media studies in Canada for 18 years. She tried out the Affordable Care Act when she moved back to the U.S. It was excellent health insurance, but it can’t hold a candle to national healthcare.