Universal Healthcare and America’s Attitudes.
I am British, and as someone who has been born and raised in Britain I can say, with utter and unyielding confidence, that I like the NHS. Yes, sometimes I have to spend hours in a waiting room to ultimately be told there is nothing wrong with me and sent home, but besides a few minor flaws (and what doesn’t have flaws?) it’s great! It’s really great! But why is that? What makes the National Health Service, in my opinion at least, so fantastic? Well, amidst a multitude of reasons the one I discern to be the most important and the most affecting is that the NHS, as it exists, works for everyone.
It doesn’t matter if you are old or young or middle aged, rich or poor, smoker, alcoholic, fire breather, banker or bin collector- everyone is entitled to healthcare, to a fundamental right to be well. The same is not so easily said in America. America seems to hold the attitude that “healthcare is a privilege and not a right” and please beg my British pardon, but that is wrong.
This policy, that allows a significant portion of a country to live, or rather to die due to lack of funds, options and care, is one that leaves me questioning the social and political climate that could lead to such an emphatically felt lack of conscience.
America is caught in a death-lock, but it’s only real enemy is itself. The country is divided not just over specific issues but it’s entire mentality, some of the people rallying for change, progression, the others desperately set against it, but when the masses, the progressive population either get beaten to submission or, in the face of real change decide that, actually, things are just fine as they are, not a whole lot actually gets done. When Obama was put in office it was done not only with an implicit indication towards change, with the election of the first mixed race, openly liberal president but also an explicit campaign for “Change”. Yet when he began working towards implementing these much sought after changes those very same people who supported his liberalism, his advocation of gay marriage, his plans to establish a healthcare for all, rejected him. While some remained stalwart others support waned and he found himself subject to abuse by those who didn’t want him to hold true to his campaign, and those that wondered why it was he hadn’t. This is what one man, Scheiber, has dubbed “Obama Derangement Syndrome”, thus named for the fact that there is no reasonable cause for the pervading negative attitudes towards him, as most people will not be affected by the introduction of universal healthcare and for those that are it will provide them with something they would not have been able to access previously.
So why, when it seems like such a good deal do many Americans not want universal healthcare? What I have been relieved to realise is that, though the people against nation wide healthcare have a significant amount of power, they are not, as we may believe, in the majority. 80% of Americans say “it’s important to provide health care coverage for all…even if it means raising taxes, than to hold down taxes but leave some people uncovered” It’s nice to know that some people, most people, care. That they bear their societal burden, and rightly so, but as for those that don’t, and that have no interest in doing so I must wonder why. What follows are a few reasons I have managed to ascertain, from many a source, that seem to make up attitudes towards the issue:
Morality: One point of contention seems to be that some Americans just can’t get down with that form of morality. Healthcare for all just doesn’t sit well with them, in fact, they are “ideologically opposed” to it. As someone who, every day is able to see and reap the benefits of such a system I literally cannot comprehend what kind of person one would have to be in order to harbour such an opinion? I choose to visualise this subsect of people as ignoble comic villains laden with masks, black spandex and super soakers filled with liquified toxic waste, though they could be more likely to look like Sarah Palin. Whatever the aesthetic, it seems those cleaving to the “American Dream” are at odds with themselves for anyone who “believe[s] in an inalienable right to life” shouldn’t be able to “tolerate a system that denies people lifesaving medications and treatments”
This is true, but the entire American system is predicated on the belief that one must triumph over all, and that success is built upon eliminating competition, and resultantly does not lend itself to making provisions for an entire public, whatever the moral implications.
“Medicaid has recently been the subject of relentless funding cuts by cash-strapped states and Congressional representatives who are ideologically opposed to welfare programs”. What I wish to know is how, and who, can be ideologically opposed to national healthcare? This question in itself almost has me spinning in circles, for what tremendous and terrible flaw is there in a system founded on helpfulness, and more so, helpfulness without bounds or bigotry? It appears that America, leader of the Western world, the ignoble individualist, is incapable of leaving it’s own engorged patriotism, it’s warped ideology, behind.
Anti-Social America: There are those in America who equate a universal healthcare with Socialism, or an “Un-American” mentality. I suppose what such a system riles against, though to many people’s benefit, is the individualist nature that forms a definitive aspect of American society, perhaps, being so indoctrinated into a mind set means that the benefits of being aware of society are lost. I was particularly shocked when one blogger emphatically argued the case that “socialised medicine… turns each of us into a little fascist”. Once again, excuse my incredulity, but, how? Why? Believing “not all ailments are equal” and that if a small part of his tax payments were going to be put towards the aid of others he would, obviously, become endowed with the right to deride them for it.
The crux of his argument, besides being overtly repulsed by any form of life-seizing activity, be it drinking, smoking, or skate-boarding, seems to be all about what price healthcare would come at. He writes; “as a laissez-faire social-libertarian live-and-let-live kind of person, I would never under normal circumstances condemn anyone…until the bill for your stupidity shows up in my mailbox.” Besides being left rather unconvinced of any libertarianism burrowed deep within the abysmal chasms of his psyche his abrupt and forceful purveyed opinion is useful in that it does not merely work as a reflection of his own, but of many an ignorant American mindset.
Cost: There is a prevailing negative opinion due to the high cost, or rather what is perceived as the potential high cost of universal healthcare, after all can it really be considered high when, in return, what one, and by one I mean anyone, receives is healthcare and treatment? One blogger said that universal healthcare is “not technically free” and I suppose it’s not. But, nonetheless, to focus on this technicality is to lead to an incredibly warped perspective. Despite the fact that taxes may well be raised, people are paying taxes already and what people will receive in return is a free or affordable medical service that, to many, is not currently available. True, plenty of people are in a position to afford private insurance and may never use a government funded clinic, however, these people are becoming more and more of a minority as private insurance costs soar.
For those that would otherwise be uninsured or reduced to bankruptcy going through a private medical system the rewards of universal healthcare are abundant. Taxes are intrinsic to any governmental funding and when tax money is already being spent on financing unjust wars that ruin lives why reject the opportunity to assist people live them healthily?
A universal healthcare system will actually see a majority of people getting far greater value for their money. “The United States spend almost twice per capita on health care on average than other countries ….yet the American health care system suffers from rampant uninsurance, sub-par life expectancy and infant mortality rates.” Whatever the costs, and they are comparatively minimal considering the rewards reaped, the price is worth paying, especially when the benefits work towards the good of an entire country. After all we people are the product of society and we nurture it and each other, and why do so begrudgingly?
Bad Britannia: But perhaps these yanks are just on a completely different page from us. Apparently it doesn’t matter that our system works, (that it not only works in the UK but Canada, Thailand, Austria, France among others) that, as far as I can reason having been born and raised in London, we are, on the whole, a pretty sympathetic, helpful bunch – from an American perspective such attitudes and implementations can only lead to terrible things. For instance, one blogger writes “If you look at other countries with socialised medicine, Great Britain being the most glaring example, these invasive and oppressive government dictates have already started to circumscribe people’s freedom, with every kind of potentially dangerous activity or unhealthy comestible being declared forbidden…” Is it my perspective that is warped? Whilst this writer would, i’m sure, appreciate living in a society (however much he chooses to deny it) in which there were unyielding and punishable restrictions placed on all sorts of activities, smiling for one, a reflection of British society it cannot be called. Growing up in London one is raised instilled with a sense of being entitled to everything, or rather a sense of everyone being entitled to anything; healthcare, homes, happiness, and all that entitlement being implicit. I was raised upholding the idea that ignorance is something that should be battled, and tolerance something prized. No one has the right to legislate anyone else, and as much as that might be a reflection of my parents it is also a reflection of our society, our government and the way they practice.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are restrictions placed on our personal freedom but not in the manner this blogger refers to. It seems to me that this American, amongst others, makes assumptions about other people and unknown experiences or systems not through an attainment of information but an extrapolation of their own misconceptions. I remember when Obama was first running for office I sat down, watched CNN, and saw this man, who confirmed all previously optimistically denied suspicions of the existence of the all american hill-billy, saying, with great conviction, that America should not have universal health care because, and I quote “Have you seen British people’s teeth?” Had he seen his? I doubt it. In fact, I doubt he’d ever met, let alone analysed the dentistry of any British person in his life.
Land of Inequality: Regardless of the attitudes prevalent in modern America regarding healthcare what one sees when evaluating the reasons behind these attitudes is an individualistically driven society punctuated by inequality, as such it leaves itself “The only industrialised nation that does not have some form of universal health care (defined as a basic guarantee of health care to all of it’s citizens)” Considering that it is the most powerful nation in the world one is left feeling more than a little unsettled. This is just not upsetting from a moral perspective it is caustic of many other problems within America. Whilst the US is prosperous it is only a small proportion of the country that truly gain anything from that prosperity with “the US rank[ing] third among all the advanced economies in the amount of income inequality. The top 1% of American’s control nearly a quarter of the country’s income” leading to huge disparities between the rich and poor and the ways in which lives are led in modern America. In 1998 26.1% of all African-Americans lived in poverty, in 2007 “8.1 million children under 18 years old were without health insurance” and the non partisan Institute of Medicine “estimates that the uninsured have an excess annual mortality rate of 25%” It is in a country like this, where the majority of people are the ones gaining access to the least, that universal healthcare should be most prioritised.
Corporate America: America is a western country controlled by it’s capitalism where the people suffer so the companies that control them may succeed. The way I rationalise America’s attitude to medicine is that they regard it as a business. This attitude permeates many facets of the medical world from the hospitals who treat people mostly out of emergency rooms where the costs are higher, to the pharmaceutical companies (though pharmaceutical companies are a global enterprise, and their opportunism is not merely restricted to the USA, though it is exploited there as part of a larger system), to the insurance companies who have been raising health insurance premiums “on average by double-digit percentage points over the past five years, a rate of increase that is 2-3 times the rate of inflation.” The system currently in place is exploitative, the current distribution of wealth results in a world where the rich that own these corporations, insurance companies, hospitals etc prosper while those in need of the most help are needlessly left uninsured, scraping by or even left to die.
Whatever the fear, the current system in place in America does not work, or rather, as previously stated, it works for some but nor for all, and that is most definitely not fair. I suppose fairness rarely has much to do with the running of a country, especially a country controlled by an implicit sense of capitalistic gain, but when that selfish greed works to the detriment of the majority, when it results not only in prolonged and needless illness but death, when it could so easily be prevented, and when the solutions are not only glaringly obvious but proven to work and desperate to be implemented, there are no attitudes, no fears that cannot and should not be allayed, no price too high. I suppose this is only my opinion, it isn’t ineffable fact, but living in a society that acts as an antithesis, my perspective is one I prize.
Current systems like Medicare and Medicaid, that reach out to help only a handful of people when so many more are in need, not just those living in poverty but many of the middle classes too, are clearly not enough. When it comes to health and life a country and it’s people must work toward the benefit of all, and that is neither a communist or socialist mentality, it is not a warped or detrimental ideal that might somehow lead to bad dental hygiene or a hedonistic and reckless lifestyle, or even if it did, what does it matter? What price is any of it to pay for a system that, if nothing else, is just humanitarian?
Abi Sehmi is a blogger who has particular interests in societal issues including politics and healthcare. She is currently writing for eLearning For You, investigating and developing ideas around Healthcare in Britain and world-wide.