By Adrian Johansen
For decades the majority of Europe was able to look at the U.S. healthcare system and comfortably say that theirs was better. However, recent austerity measures sweeping across European nations have lead to massive cuts to healthcare funding. Are these cuts intended as cost-saving measures, leading the European nations that have implemented them towards a U.S.-like system wherein the majority of citizens have inadequate healthcare?
Lack of Access
After years of budget cuts, many British neighborhoods look worse off as social safety nets slowly disappear and poverty spreads like a disease. In Britain, austerity measures are certainly changing things, but not for the better. Parks, libraries, community centers and public works have all faced the ax of austerity, and with this gutting of communal services comes an inherent lack of access to healthcare.
After the economic crisis of 2008, it was apparent that officials had decided the best way to pay for the bailouts of the banking industry was to enforce austerity measures, with little thought as to how it would affect those with lower socioeconomic standing. Poorer communities are disproportionately affected by these slashes to funding, limiting their once-braggable access to public works as well as physical and mental health services. Every year, more communities across Britain are looking more similar to the U.S. than the rest of Europe.
In the U.S., preventative health services like dental and vision care are often avoided due to the high costs associated with even the most basic of visits. Because of this, U.S. citizens are prone to more serious, expensive, and unavoidable hospital visits later on. Many Americans are left pondering how they will pay the remainder of their medical bills not covered by insurance, as most health insurance plans in the U.S. only cover a portion of the cost of major procedures. This has a compounding effect, which has driven poverty levels in the U.S. to the point where the middle class barely exists.
How It Affects Marginalized Groups
Marginalized and at-risk groups are hit especially hard by austerity measures, as the cuts often rob them of highly necessary services that can often be the difference between life or death. Women, refugees, and those with low socioeconomic standing all suffer greatly, as there are government programs being cut that directly affect their safety and well-being. It is unfortunate that governments seemingly endorse this, as austerity measures haven proven time and time again to hit these groups harder than others.
For women, cuts to the police and criminal justice system, as well as cuts to charities that focus on domestic violence, have resulted in the rapid erosion of progress regarding gender equality. Austerity measures are directly tied to increased instances of domestic violence, and the silence from the Tory party only cements that this is an acceptable side effect. As funding for healthcare is cut, it creates a divide as women are forced to pay more than their male counterparts because of the increased costs of childbirth and child rearing.
Refugees fleeing conflict or persecution in their home countries also feel the negative effects of austerity measures. Refugees come to America and Europe because of a promise of a safer life, and many public programs in place assist them in many areas, including getting the proper healthcare. While the U.S. has a pervasive issue with the acceptance of refugees, European nations are beginning to share the same outlook, balking at the idea of accepting refugees and seeing them as social leeches when the fact is that most refugees have an intense desire to return home once the conflict in their home country dies down.
Austerity Hurts Healthcare
With years of austerity measures in place and massive spending cuts enacted, there is ample evidence that austerity is bad for people’s health. As support systems are routinely cut, more and more people are putting off regular checkups and preventative healthcare measures, leading them to costly visits later, mirroring how healthcare in the U.S. works. An intelligent and compassionate society recognizes that problems should be treated before they escalate and that the health of citizens is paramount to the success of that society. Unfortunately, this idea seems to be falling by the wayside.
As a prime example, the healthcare system in Greece has been absolutely devastated by austerity measures. Collapsed primary and community healthcare services have resulted in the hospitals that remain open being flooded with crowds of Greeks looking for treatment for not just major problems but the most minor of issues. Psych wards are overcrowded, with 50 patients occupying a room intended for 25 people at most. Nearly a third of the Greek population is living in poverty without adequate access to healthcare due to these austerity measures.
How long will it be before England and other European countries’ citizens are forced to prepare to travel for appropriate medical treatment like their U.S. cousins? In the U.S. even prominent politicians recognize that other countries have better healthcare and openly travel to them for procedures, all while justifying their actions by saying that they too are paying out of pocket. This cognitive dissonance is displayed in order to convince American citizens that the system that they have works — that, unfortunately, everyone might have to pay insane sums of money for the healthcare they require. If austerity measures continue to be put into place unchecked by politicians who seemingly disregard the well-being of their constituency, this will become an all-too-common scenario. Ideally, a society would function in a way that takes care of all of those participating in it, not just the few who can afford it. Healthcare should not be seen as a luxury reserved for the upper crust of society, but as a right to all individuals living within a society.