Opinion | Americans desperately need universal healthcare

By Livia LaMarca, Senior Staff Columnist

Have you ever heard the saying there is six degrees of separation between you and any person on this planet? Now, have you heard the much funnier saying that all of your problems can be traced six degrees or less back to Ronald Reagan? I find that one particularly humorous.

I can’t take complete credit for this saying, as I am sure I am not the first person to utter these words, but I would like to introduce one more saying for you to consider — all of your problems can also be traced six degrees or less back to not having universal healthcare.

I said these words to my roommate when we were discussing one of my recent freak-outs, which are often about the health of myself or a loved one. I was having heartburn from some spicy nachos and arm pain most likely from a pinched nerve after a bad night of sleep. However, I had completely convinced myself I was having a heart attack. I am usually a relatively logical person, so I knew that I wasn’t, but of course, more thoughts flooded my brain. I am the only one who can read and understand the signs of my body, and only I can know when something is wrong and if I need help. I decided to not go to the hospital that day, but I am fortunate enough to have the means to go if I truly believed I needed help. Unfortunately, most are not like me.

How many people ignore the signs and symptoms that they are not well simply because they cannot afford to go to the doctor? How many face serious injury and illness because of this? How many people die?

I recently had a standard heart echocardiogram, and when the bill came in the mail, I was shocked to see that the cost before insurance was over $10,000. After I received that lovely bill in the mail, I realized I am simply unable to comprehend the price of the medical bills my brother incurred after his surgery just a few months ago. I don’t even want to think about it because I am sure the cost is astronomically high.

How is anybody without insurance supposed to afford these procedures?

The United States is the only large, developed country to not have universal healthcare. And on top of that, in 2020 around 28 million people did not have any form of insurance coverage. This means that every last medical bill they incur must be paid out of pocket – a feat that is difficult to accomplish no matter how much money one makes. Over a third of the population is protected by the only socialized medical insurance this country offers — Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare is only available to those over the age of 65 or if you have certain disabilities. 

Through the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has allocated Medicaid funding to those who make no more than 133% of the Federal Poverty Level. In order to qualify for this program, a single adult cannot make more than $14,580 a year. It is $30,000 for a family of four and $50,560 for a family of eight.

Despite their faults, the foundational ideas of these programs are great — supply healthcare to those who need it and those who can’t afford it. However, the U.S. government ignores the rest of the population, who most likely also cannot afford to pay these unbelievably high medical costs.

The number one source of debt in this country is medical bills. Americans are around $140 billion deep in medical debt. This surpasses debt in all other areas, such as credit cards, utilities and loans. Fortunately, the amount of medical debt decreased in states that expanded the scope of their Medicaid programs.

The thought of taking on medical debt and the excruciatingly high medical costs keep many Americans from seeking healthcare. Even households that make over $120,000 annually — which is a much higher number than the federal poverty line — are avoiding this necessary care due to the costs. 

In 2008, The British Medical Journal calculated that more than 26,000 Americans die every year because they simply cannot afford to pay medical costs and therefore do not go and seek care when they really need it. A 2009 study calculated that number even higher at around 45,000 Americans every year. In much more recent surveys from 2019, around 25% of people say they or a family member have delayed medical treatment for serious illnesses due to the cost.

People die because they don’t have access to healthcare. It is that simple. Over 50% of Americans say that medical costs are a financial hardship for themselves and their families. There is no reason we should have to live like this. We are the only wealthy country that has yet to supply its citizens with adequate healthcare. Healthcare is a human right, and so many of our problems would be alleviated if we had access to socialized medicine.

We have a privatized insurance industry that doesn’t even support the best kind of care — preventative care. We can solve these problems by establishing a comprehensive public healthcare system. People can go and get checked out when their bodies tell them to, and we can establish a much happier, much healthier country where people do not die due to completely preventable health problems.

Livia LaMarca mostly writes about American political discourse and pop culture. Write to her at [email protected].