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Left for Dead: Why Americans Deserve Universal Healthcare

Jonathan has a bachelor's degree in English and a strong interest in examining America's healthcare system.

The U.S. is essentially the only developed country in the world without universal healthcare, and over 28 million people have no health insurance—read on to find out how and why that should change.

The U.S. is essentially the only developed country in the world without universal healthcare, and over 28 million people have no health insurance—read on to find out how and why that should change.

Imagine living in a world where you never have to fill out a health insurance form or pay a premium or a deductible for your doctor’s visit—a world where a diagnosis of cancer or some other unthinkable illness would never immediately be followed by thoughts like, "How will I pay for my treatment?" or "What if I lose my house because of my medical bills?" A world where the names Humana, Aetna, Kaiser, and Cigna carry no meaning. In every major industrialized nation, that world is a reality—every major industrialized nation, that is, except the United States.

We are essentially the only developed country in the world that does not have universal healthcare. Here in the US of A, over 28 million people have no health insurance, and about 45,000 die each year because of it. This means that since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, roughly 360,000 Americans have died because they had no health insurance. Three hundred sixty thousand. That’s like 120 9/11 terrorist attacks. Three hundred sixty thousand people who would have had a chance to live if they were a citizen of Canada, England, Iceland, France, Germany, or almost any other industrialized nation; they died because they were Americans.

Military Spending vs. Healthcare Spending

And yet, while we have such an obscene number of uninsured people and insured people who have inadequate coverage, the United States is the richest country in the world and spends more on defense and the military than any other nation. We apparently can’t find the money to provide healthcare to everyone, but we are always able to find more money for war.

In 2018, Congress passed a bill increasing the military budget by $80 billion, bringing the United States' defense budget for 2018 to a whopping $700 billion. This exceeds the military spending of our next ten biggest rivals combined. Three Republicans voted against the spending bill. But more surprisingly, only five Democratic senators voted against it, including Bernie Sanders.

Who Benefits From Military Spending?

Conservatives often deride the self-professed Democratic Socialist and 2016 and 2020 presidential candidate for pushing unrealistic, “fiscally irresponsible” policies, although this $80 billion military increase is more than enough to pay for his proposal for free tuition at public colleges and universities (the estimated cost of that plan is $75 billion annually). The important difference between the military spending bill and Bernie’s free college plan is that one greatly benefits powerful corporations, and the other does not.

Weapons manufacturers and corporations such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman have a vested interest in the continual increase of our defense spending. Companies like these receive hundreds of billions of our tax dollars a year in the form of contract awards from the Pentagon.

This money goes partly to pay for the services of these companies, and largely to pay their CEOs’ exorbitant salaries. And to protect their vested interest, each year, defense contractors spend incredible amounts of money lobbying Congress to ensure that our senators keep voting with their interests in mind. When the defense sector has at least one lobbyist for every member of Congress, is it too far-fetched to suggest that maybe the increase of our military budget is less about defending the American people and more about making a handful of CEOs and executives very rich?

But wait: Weapons aren’t the only thing the Pentagon spends the budget on. Healthcare companies also get a cut. That’s right: Health insurance companies like Humana and United Health Group receive billions of our tax dollars each year. And these companies, along with pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry in general, spend great sums of money lobbying against universal healthcare.

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And yet, while we are able and willing to hand over all this money to corporations and CEOs, we are incapable of taking care of the very soldiers we send to fight in the wars we love so much.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are an estimated 39,471 homeless veterans in our country. In addition, there are 510,000 veterans who don’t have health insurance. It is time we asked ourselves as a society: Is it acceptable that even one veteran should be without a home or healthcare? For that matter, is it acceptable that even one American should be without a home or healthcare?

How Can America Afford Universal Healthcare?

One of the first arguments conservatives always bring against single-payer healthcare is that America simply doesn’t have the money for it. That argument can no longer be taken seriously when viewed in light of the fact that Congress just allocated $80 billion more for unnecessary wars. The money is there; what’s lacking is the political will.

I’m not saying we could pay for healthcare-for-all entirely by reducing the military budget; that would simply be a component. Taxes would have to be raised for everyone (notice I never said free universal healthcare), but that isn’t a bad thing. The wealthy, of course, would pay more, but everyone would contribute. And in the long run, we would pay much less than we do now. All of our health insurance fees, deductibles, and premiums aren’t called taxes, but do we have any more choice in paying them than we do our taxes?

Is Healthcare a Privilege or a Right?

Almost everywhere else in the world, healthcare is a right, and it is scandalous and shameful that the same cannot be said of the U.S. We have decided as a society that everyone has the right to a high school education (although our schools are devastatingly underfunded, our teachers are underpaid, and 35 million American adults cannot read above a fourth-grade level). We all pay taxes so that even the least fortunate of us may have that right.

But in this country, healthcare is a privilege given only to those who have enough money. How does that make any sense? Doesn’t the right to healthcare precede the right to an education? How are you supposed to go to school if you are unwell?

In a single-payer healthcare system, we would all pay a little more in taxes with the knowledge that if we ever become sick or injured, we don’t have to worry at all about paying for treatment. With all the stress, pain, and anxiety that comes along with illness and injury, we would never on top of all that have to think will my insurance cover this? I am happy to have my taxes raised if it means that every American (including myself) may be forever free from that thought.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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