It was November 2017, when a young couple plunged to their death in Manhattan, NY. The note found in the man’s coat read “Our children are upstairs, please take care of them […] We both have medical issues, we just can’t afford healthcare”.
The sad reality about healthcare costs in America is often a standing joke for other nations, with jokes like “I would have to sell my house for a vasectomy” failing to sound funny to everyday American people whose reality is horrifically similar.
The Cost of Healthcare in the US
Recent statements by the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, in one of his frequent Twitter updates, do not show any signs of reassurance for positive change, with Mr Trump stating that “the Democrats are pushing for universal health care while thousands of people are marching in the U.K. because their system is going broke and not working.”
In response to the POTUS’ statements, Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of Health and Social Care in Britain, stated that “I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover. The NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.”
Hilary and Obamacare
Healthcare is a sensitive subject in the US with inflated healthcare costs threatening not only bank balances, but also human lives. The general rule of thumb is that whoever can afford healthcare can expect to receive world class healthcare services, while the poorest societal tiers are not able to take themselves, not their children, to see the doctor in the case of an emergency.
Hilary Clinton’s campaign was heavily based on a reformed healthcare, and if Hilary is known for anything, it is for forgiving her cheating husband during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and her fierce attempt to reform the US healthcare system in the early 90s. Her reform plan was long and ambitious, spanning over 1000 pages of healthcare analysis. An exemplary technocratic feat, which was eventually ‘shut down’ by her husband, and at the time POTUS, Bill Clinton, due to pressures by the Congress.
Obamacare was an ambitious social experiment also, outlining that every American citizen would mandatorily have healthcare insurance, whether or not they were in employment, ensuring that the wealthier percentage of the population would be contributing to a fairer society by helping to ensure their poorer fellow citizens also received a basic healthcare.
Another step to a positive direction was the introduction of Medicare, which meant that individuals above 65 years of age and those on a very low income could also access healthcare services. That meant that approximately 60% of until then uninsured Americans began to access healthcare services at the cost of approximately $100 per month (including state contributions).
One of the many successes of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 a.k.a. Obamacare, was that the Act passed, even after the very prominent and obvious opposition shown by pharmaceutical lobbies, which makes one even more convinced of its efficacy.
Obamacare seemed to be an unpleasant social equality exercise, largely held in contempt by many Republicans who bizarrely regarded a healthcare system promoting equality among America’s citizens, as an attack on their personal freedom and human rights, though nobody could ever articulate the aforementioned with convincing logical arguments.
Recents stats report United States’ health spending is predicted to rise to 5.3 percent in 2018. This is not unrelated to the sharp rise in drug costs, which show a remarkable increase to an average 6.3 percent per year, with drugs used for genetic disorders and cancer, making the largest dent in US healthcare spending.
The US spends approximately 17.9% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare, yet at any given time approximately forty seven million Americans are uninsured and therefore unable to receive any sort of healthcare.
Why is Healthcare in the US so Expensive
Until recently it was thought that increased medical costs in the US were directly related to the increased number of medical services the US population demanded, in comparison to residents of other countries. However, a study published in the Journal of the American Medicinal Association in March 2018, refutes the aforementioned myth with the supervising professor, Dr. Ashish Jha from the University of Harvard, stating that the notions about excessive use are unfounded.
Researchers found that at the root of the higher healthcare spending in the US, were the exceptionally high wages that doctors and other nursing staff receive, with an average doctor’s wage ranging from $210,000 to $230,000, compared to almost half that amount in other developed countries.
The US also invests a large chunk of its healthcare budget on drugs, with every American spending approximately $1,500 annually on medication, compared to less than half that amount for residents of other developed countries.
Regardless of higher budgets being invested in healthcare by the US, this is not reflected on the quality of care provided to its citizens, with hospitals in the US being under-equipped, meaning that only 2.8 hospital beds per 1000 people are available at any given time. Another negative factor is the amount of US citizens who are regular smokers, which amounts to approximately 11.5 percent of US population smoking everyday.
Moreover, as expected, obesity is also a negatively contributing factor in US healthcare expenditure, as the US average for obese residents reached approximately 70%, which is considerably higher than the 55% average for other developed countries.
Finally, researchers concluded that the budget discrepancy is rooted in a very simple concept; higher pricing. The US was found to spend approximately 8% of its annual healthcare budget in administrative functions and the running of healthcare services, compared to the considerably lower budget observed in other countries, which is not higher than 1-3%.
Healthcare Spending in the US Compared to Other Countries
According to Blumberg, the ineffectiveness of the US healthcare system is staggering, as it is far inferior to the healthcare systems of much poorer countries like Serbia, Turkey and China. In the US, spending per capita amounts to approximately $9,892 annually, with an average life expectancy of 76.3 years.
Experts say that the average life expectancy of a country is not a reliable measure of its healthcare system’s success, as there are way too many variables like education and individual income to be taken into account.
Does America want a National Healthcare System?
The need for a national healthcare system is said to be gaining ground in the US, particularly in recent years, with 62% of Americans supporting such a move, as they regard it beneficial to the social system of democratic living, where all American citizens’ lives are treated as equally important and worthy of a good standard of public healthcare. Robert Brenton, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health stated that “There is a significant increase in people who support universal coverage”.
Whatever America decides to do, it is true that healthcare in the US could not be further from ideal. A few positive steps have happened, however, one should not have to sell, remortgage their house, or decide to sacrifice their lives due to unreasonably high healthcare costs, which could and should be covered by the government. It is unacceptable to still see people jumping off balconies in the greatest democracy on Earth, due to healthcare costs. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.