The American Healthcare System: How it affects us, and how we can afford to change it

Meriam Ahmad stands next to a Medicare 4 All sign at a Car Rally for California Guaranteed Health Care for All (CalCare).

By Jessa Durero and Meriam Ahmad, Santa Clara County Single Payer Health Care Coalition and South Bay Students for a National Health Program (South Bay SNaHP).

On March 7, 2021 we were interviewed by a reporter from San José Spotlight regarding our fight to guarantee health care to all Californians. During the interview, we discussed extensively why we both believe in a single-payer system as a means to universal health care. While the article that followed included many important aspects of our discussion, it missed two key elements of the fight for single-payer that we talked about: the stories of everyday Americans who face looming uncertainty and massive medical bills, as well as how we can afford to change what’s happening.

Jessa

Health insurance has been quite inconsistent throughout my life. Because the health insurance I was usually under was through one of my parents’ jobs, it meant that our access to medical services was not guaranteed in the near future. Having health insurance that was not connected to one’s employment was not affordable for my family; however, it was also something that we could not necessarily live without given the health conditions of some of my family members. Though I never realized it while growing up, having inconsistent health care has impacted my family’s life as well as my own.

As a 21-year-old college student who grew up in a low-income setting, guaranteed health care would also help reduce any financial impact I would experience after I graduate. During the transition from high school to a college environment, I was faced with multiple financial crises involving my education. I cannot imagine what kind of financial impact this may have on me once I graduate, grow out of my parents’ health insurance plan, and have to pay for my individual plan, which will invariably be quite costly.

My story is not uncommon among many first-generation college students with families who have immigrated from their respective countries. Implementing a single-payer healthcare system would not only benefit these individuals, but it would also be beneficial to all as this would bring equal access to quality health care no matter what gender, race, ethnic, and socioeconomic background you identify with.

Meriam

Fortunately, single-payer healthcare is both a humanitarian and practical policy. In 2019, the United States spent $10,966 per capita on healthcare, more than any other industrialized nation. Sadly, our health outcomes are not nearly as impressive. In 2020, the United States ranked 41st in life expectancy, 45th in child mortality, and 97th in access to quality health care. Not only that, but a study recently published by Public Citizen demonstrated that, in the United States, a third of COVID-19 deaths and 40% of confirmed cases were tied to a lack of health insurance. There is undeniable racism in this as well: people of color under the age of 65 are twice as likely to die of COVID-19 as white Americans. Surely, the richest nation on Earth can afford to do better.

In fact, we can. Guaranteeing health care for all Americans would at least shorten the gap between our health outcomes and those of every other industrialized nation. There are several ways to achieve universal healthcare, and implementing a nationwide single-payer healthcare system has emerged as the prominent solution to our problems. Not only would single payer cut billions in administrative waste, which manifests itself throughout the private health insurance industry in the form of unnecessary paperwork, exorbitant executive salaries, and other overhead costs (which is why retaining the massive role of the private health insurance industry as proposed by Biden and Buttigieg and others in their “public option” plan would actually be too expensive) but overall, single-payer healthcare would save the United States billions in health expenditures.

The actual estimates of savings vary, but a study published last year in The Lancet by Yale University researchers demonstrated that moving to a single-payer healthcare system would save more than $450 billion annually in national healthcare expenditures, and it would prevent the annual loss of nearly 68,000 lives due to a lack of or inadequate health insurance. Additionally, last year UCSF researchers published an analysis of twenty-two formal studies on financing a single-payer healthcare system and found a “high degree of analytical consensus” on the fact that single payer saves money; in fact, nineteen of those studies foresaw savings in the first year of implementation. Even the Congressional Budget Office, which offers non-partisan analyses of the feasibility of Congressional proposals, found last December that a single-payer healthcare system with Medicare as the insurer would substantially reduce overall nationwide spending on healthcare. Thus, assumptions about single-payer healthcare being too expensive or unreasonable or impractical are both unfounded and misguided, but unfortunately, they’re exactly what American health insurance corporations want you to believe.

Of course, the implementation of and the transition to such a system would be difficult. We know that. But we also know that the benefits of moving to a nationwide single-payer healthcare system are too great to brush aside. Single-payer healthcare is practical and efficient, and it’s also compassionate and humane. Single payer will bring freedom to medicine — the freedom to choose your provider, your hospital, your doctor, etc. at no cost at the point of service. It will bring preventive services to the forefront of medicine, centering the need to scan for and reduce the risk of diseases before they happen by making preventive medicine affordable to all. And, most importantly, it will bring certainty to the lives of so many Americans who have known nothing but instability in their health care. In the midst of a global pandemic that has amplified uncertainty in all aspects of life, now more than ever, it’s time to provide stability and safety where it matters most — our health.

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