By: Vera Hannah-Wildfang
Living in Germany, I have the luxury of being provided with (almost) free nationwide healthcare, covering everything from a flu shot to life changing surgery. I used to think this was the norm, that doctors and hospitals are there to save lives. Never could I have imagined these institutions and the pharmaceutical industry being solely out for profit. I was wrong.
As I grew older, I learned that the American system is radically different from what I was used to. There is no universal healthcare in the United States, and if you are not part of a certain group that is eligible for insurance provided by the government, well, you gotta’ pay. Of course there are public clinics and NPOs (Non-Profit Organizations) that provide healthcare for the folks who need the most support. However, 38 million people have inadequate health insurance, and more than 43 million people remain completely uninsured.
I sprained my ankle and needed medical care. I was worried about the cost, but I always knew that my insurance would pay me back once I was home again. Sidenote, I paid an extra 75 Euros (about 84 USD) for three months of complete health insurance with no co-pay during my trip to the US.
I went to UPMC and immediately had to pay $100 up front. went to UPMC and immediately had to pay $100 up front. I had an x-ray done without the doctors asking me if I wanted it. I got a brace for my ankle and was handed physical therapy exercises printed on a sheet of paper. I paid over $500 in total. Sure, they treated me like a decent human being, but from the moment I entered to the moment I left, it was obvious that this was more about my money than about my health.
Because of how the healthcare system is built, most of the money spent on insurance goes directly to doctors, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry. Profit over People is the motto of this system.
Now, just imagine having a low-income job, a family to provide for, rent to pay, and just having enough to get by every month. Imagine getting sick and not being able to see a doctor. Imagine your illness getting worse and the cost of medical help you need just keeps growing. Imagine having to choose between lifesaving medicine and food.
This cycle is real and continues to spiral out of control. Healthcare inequality is not an issue that can be handled on its own. It is deeply connected to growing income inequality, which is rooted in racism, sexism and capitalism. It is a complicated spider web of problems that can only be solved together, requiring systemic change.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was originally planned to act as a universal healthcare plan and was an attempt to tackle healthcare inequality. It has its flaws, however, it made insurance available to between 32 million and 50 million more Americans, which is quite an improvement. Every citizen was required to have health insurance by 2014 or to face an income tax surcharge. The reason for that was illness prevention – pushing people to seek treatment before their illnesses became more severe, as generally emergency room visits create the highest costs.
The ACA was met with plenty of praise, but also had its harsh critics. Amongst those critics are big companies and wealthy Americans, because insurance companies are mostly owned by private sector businesses and the ACA raised costs for those facilities and created additional taxes for higher income individuals and families. From the minute the bill was passed the Republican Party in particular tried to sabotage and undermine the ACA, claiming that it was “unconstitutional” to make health insurance mandatory.
People who oppose the ACA do not realize that health insurance is in fact a human right, not a privilege. They fear the government becoming too involved, which in many minds ends in oh-so-feared socialism. However, our government’s involvement in every other country but our own is fine, right?
The main thing that Republicans seem to say is “get rid of Obamacare,” “repeal the ACA,” but my questions are: What alternative do you have to offer? Are you willing to risk thousands of lives that depend on the ACA? How does taking away people’s health insurance lower the cost of getting medical care if an alternative system does not exist? Is your money really more important than human beings?
Promises have recently been made by Trump to create “a really great Healthcare Plan with far lower premiums and deductibles than Obamacare.“ This however is not supposed to happen until the 2020 election and sounds like a rather vague solution to me.
People are dying because of the current healthcare situation. Millions do not have insurance and cannot access adequate and very much needed care. The Trump administration and its empty statements are not providing any kind of solution. Congress needs to step up and prohibit further actions that lessen coverage and leave folks with higher costs. Our system is due for an update, and legislative action needs to happen sooner than later.
Vera Hanna-Wildfang, 18, was an international volunteer at the Thomas Merton Center from Berlin, Germany. She is on her gap year before attending college and will continue to do nonprofit work in Peru later this year.