By Brooke Faulkner
In the United States, private insurance companies, for-profit healthcare companies, pharmaceutical companies, and low government funding make healthcare for the average U.S. citizen largely inaccessible. Income inequality in the U.S. and unaffordable healthcare have created a huge barrier between low-income citizens and their access to the medical care they need.
Around the world, the U.S. government faces renown criticism for lack of healthcare regulation, and the skyrocketing prices for healthcare and medication that make these necessities entirely inaccessible to those who need them most. Although countries all around the world have socialized medicine and healthcare to provide affordable health insurance to their constituents, the U.S. is sorely lacking, ranking last of the developed countries in the healthcare options offered to citizens.
Healthcare in the U.S.
According to a study by The Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. ranks last in healthcare system performance among industrialized countries; including the United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, and France. Of these countries, the U.S. is the most populous, with over 330 million citizens — indicating that hundreds of millions of U.S. citizens are unable to receive the healthcare they need. The need for healthcare and the inability to afford it creates a vicious cycle in low-income brackets, where those who cannot afford healthcare become too ill to work and are then left with very little options to improve their situation.
Another fact that makes this ranking even more concerning is that the U.S. has high numbers of people with severe and chronic health problems, such as heart disease and cancer, which are often associated with the American diet. Although preventative care aims to decrease the factors that cause chronic illness, this area of care is also insufficiently funded. However, the United Nations is aiming to improve global health through sustainable development goals; such as reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and pollution, and ending hunger and malnutrition globally by 2030.
Although advanced technology and ongoing research have increased our ability to treat most illnesses — including cancer, heart disease, dementia and mental illness — the U.S. healthcare system bars those without sufficient income from having access to life-saving treatments, as well as treatments that could help improve their quality of life enough to get ahead. Chronic illness accounts for 86 percent of healthcare expenditures, which places a huge financial burden on our most vulnerable populations who suffer from long-term and often debilitating health problems. This situation often traps people and puts them in circumstances that make them unable to get back on their feet.
Healthcare in Other Countries
In Saudi Arabia, Bupa Arabia, a publicly listed company, is one of the leading healthcare providers in the country. Collaborating with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the company provides 100 percent medical coverage to orphans and many individuals who need insurance and can’t afford it. Their policies aim to provide the same benefits offered by private companies to the misfortunate to help them overcome hardship. The Ministry of Health made the decision to be the ultimate provider in health services and dedicated 11 percent of the national budget to taking on this role.
In other countries that take a main role in providing their citizens with good and affordable healthcare, tax reform has dedicated a substantial portion of their funds to ensure people have access to healthcare. Countries like the UK and Australia consider accessible healthcare a basic human right, understanding that by taking care of their constituents, they are investing in the quality of life of the people who help sustain their economy. This is often seen as a necessary role for governments to take, as dedicating a portion of national budgets to regulating healthcare is a worthwhile investment that only a government organization has the power to successfully control.
So when will the U.S. healthcare system catch up with the rest of the industrialized world? Although the U.S. healthcare system has a long way to go before catching up with the best healthcare systems around the world, there have been a few positive changes in the last decade that aim to provide affordable healthcare to more people. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was an attempt at universal healthcare for American citizens that, although having some kinks, corrected some healthcare policies that negatively affected millions of people.
The ACA expanded Medicaid, the government’s mostly free health insurance plan for the poor, and provided subsidies to those in the lowest tax brackets so they could buy health insurance. It also mandated employers of a certain size to offer health insurance to more people and put more regulations on health insurance companies, such as by requiring insurance companies to cover those with preexisting conditions, in order to protect the chronically ill. There are still many changes that need to be made to achieve universal healthcare, but the ACA has certainly helped bring the U.S. closer to accessible healthcare. In legislative sessions, laws on healthcare reform are transformed and passed, and the people voted into office are in charge of voting on behalf of their constituents, so it’s important to know where politicians stand on these issues in order to achieve better healthcare. In his 2019 State of the Union Speech, President Trump said, “America will never be a socialist country,” to rounds of applause. However, the only way to achieve affordable healthcare for all, is to socialize the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Therefore, it’s ultimately up to voters to select candidates who will prioritize accessible healthcare and help the U.S. healthcare system to catch up to the rest of the developed world.