As a charter member of the Bangor chapter of Maine AllCare, I have been an advocate for universal healthcare for some time.
Healthcare for all is the norm in essentially all other developed countries. In those countries, healthcare generally costs less than what we pay for it, routinely results in better health outcomes and is more clearly equitable to all citizens.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has put an even finer point on this issue. Health insurance – which in no way is an assurance of actual healthcare – currently is tied to employment and will now be lost by millions of people in the United States.
Those who once opted out of healthcare coverage because they were “healthy individuals” will have a rude awakening if they or their loved ones face a prolonged hospitalization with ICU care due to COVID-19 or, in fact, any other serious medical problem. Providing healthcare coverage for employees already is an albatross around the necks of employers who know those costs are an ever-rising and uncertain expense.
These expenses, passed on to employers and consumers by insurance companies, primarily are due to huge administrative costs – huge when compared to the healthcare systems in other countries or our own Medicare and Veteran Administration systems. So bad are these costs that Canadian companies near our border commonly recoil from expanding into the U.S. in the face of these large and unpredictable expenses.
Universal healthcare does not encourage unemployment, but it does encourage routine and preventative care. It also encourages patients to seek care when they have a problem instead of waiting for it to become an emergency. This results in an overall healthier population and work force.
People at all levels of employment, from skilled workers to administrators, also would be able to move anywhere in the U.S. to get jobs and not fear losing healthcare coverage or to go through the hassle of re-enrolling for coverage. Entrepreneurs could start businesses without the added start-up expense of health insurance and without the fear of losing healthcare if the business fails. Young people could choose jobs and careers base on their training, dreams, and desires rather than whether a job offers healthcare coverage.
It was disheartening to hear on the news the other day recommendations for avoiding unexpected costs if you or a loved one contracts COVID-19 and is hospitalized. Among the hits were making sure that the hospital was compliant and could receive all appropriate federal and insurance payments, and making sure that all the providers who treated you were “in network.” All of this was to be accomplished by a worried family member of a patient who potentially would be cared for by dozens of providers – while the family member would not even be able to visit in the hospital or ICU. This approach by insurance companies to avoid paying the bills is repulsive and simply is not allowed in other countries.
It is time for us to stand up for universal healthcare. This has only become more evident in these times of COVID-19. A pandemic means we truly are all in this together (ditto when it comes to climate change). This approach toward healthcare costs less, results in better outcomes, is better for business, and obviously is more equitable.
Even if you don’t think healthcare is a human right, it at least should be a moral imperative here in the richest country in the world.