The late Senator Ted Kennedy once said “Healthcare is not a commodity. It is not a gift to be rationed based on the ability to pay.” For him, healthcare was the cause of his life, for which he had spent forty-seven years fighting for in the Senate. Much has been done in the realm of healthcare since Senator Kennedy was first elected in 1962, but there is still much more that needs to be done. His lifelong goal to ensure that every American has access to quality and affordable healthcare is one that, despite the best efforts of its supporters, still remains elusive.
Since his passing in 2009, others have taken up the mantle of advocating for the right of all Americans to quality healthcare. One might recall the rallying cries of Medicare for All that dominated Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president in both 2016 and 2020. Indeed, even within a party as fractious as the Democratic Party, nearly all its members can unite around the idea of improving the state of healthcare in the U.S., even if they differ on how to do that.
The concern of those advocating for healthcare reform in this country is well warranted. The U.S. spends a gargantuan sum of money on health care, far more than comparable countries, like Germany or Canada. Despite that, the U.S. falls short in various health metrics, calling into question the quality of U.S. healthcare. Even more worrying is the ever increasing cost of healthcare — net spending on major health care programs is projected to grow from 5.8 percent of GDP to 8.8 percent in 2052. The passage of the Affordable Care Act made some progress in reducing healthcare costs, but there is still much more that can and should be done.
The creation of a universal single-payer healthcare system in the U.S. is the dream of many progressives. It is a tantalizing picture — the possibility for all Americans to have access to affordable, quality healthcare, courtesy of the federal government. Never again will any American be saddled with medical bills they cannot pay off, nor will they be unable to find treatment for whatever ailment might afflict them. However, the creation of a universal single-payer healthcare system is an elusive dream. There is simply far too much opposition to further the expansion of the healthcare system. One only has to look at the many obstacles the Affordable Care Act faced, both during the legislative process and the many attempts to repeal it, to see that.
Nonetheless, what can be done? Or rather, what should be done? As difficult as it would be, chasing the dream is what healthcare advocates should strive for; Medicare for All should be considered the ultimate goal. For those who want to see an American healthcare system that provides universal coverage and guarantees comprehensive coverage for all medical procedures at an affordable cost, there is no higher aspiration.
Whether or not the government should be the one to provide healthcare for the people has been debated endlessly, from the halls of Congress to dining room tables across the country. But it should not be a point of contention at all — does the government not have the duty to provide for the wellbeing of all its citizens? When one reads the founding documents of the U.S., it may be observed that the general welfare clause grants Congress the power to provide for the general welfare of the U.S. Could this clause not be interpreted as giving the government an obligation to ensure the American people have access to quality medical care?
The words of Ted Kennedy still hold true today. Treating healthcare as a commodity is the wrong way to approach the issue. Access to adequate healthcare is something that most, if not every person will need at some point in their life. And when someone is sick or is otherwise in need of medical attention, they never choose for that to happen to them. It is something that can happen to anyone — illness rarely discriminates. And when one does need medical attention, they should not be left destitute because of a medical bill they can barely afford. It is unjust for anyone to be forced to make a choice between receiving medical care or paying their bills. Unfortunately, that is the reality many Americans face. Health care should be considered a right, not a luxury.
There are many areas where the American healthcare system can be improved. Implementing Medicare for All would go a long way in addressing many of those issues. No one would have to worry about not being able to afford their healthcare premiums any longer — out-of-pocket costs for those covered by Medicare for All will be kept to a minimum, if there are any at all. Those with pre-existing conditions will not have to worry about being rejected by private health insurers — access to healthcare will be guaranteed to all. No longer would patients have to pay staggering prices for vital pharmaceutical drugs — the Medicare program would be allowed to negotiate drug prices down to a reasonable level. Indeed, a report published by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in February found that under a single-payer program, health insurance premiums would be eliminated and out-of-pocket costs would decrease significantly. Today, more than twenty-seven million Americans are uninsured, most of them low-income people. With Medicare for All, every single one of them would have access to healthcare.
Furthermore, the implementation of a single-payer-system à la Medicare for All would make for a more efficient system than the one that currently exists. The current healthcare system in the U.S. is a maze of byzantine administrative structures. The lack of standardization between the various health insurers and hospitals across the nation adds a layer of complexity to the administration of health care, creating a massive financial drain. The CBO found that the streamlining and standardization of regulations across the nation would decrease administrative expenses in the health care substantially, decreasing overall government expenditure; it would free up funds for other purposes, allowing for investments in other sectors of society. Another report from the CBO published in 2020 found that a single-payer system would decrease health care expenditure from anywhere between $42 billion to $743 billion depending on its exact specifications. Those who worry about the massive increase in government spending that would result from adopting a single-payer health care system have little to worry about.
As much as Medicare-for-All’s detractors claim that the efficiency of government run healthcare will be lacking, Medicare will at least follow a standardized set of standards and regulations. In that sense, it will certainly be more efficient than the current healthcare system, low as that bar might be. With Medicare for All, the U.S. might actually get more bang for its buck with its healthcare spending, as it were.
If America wants to consider itself one of the greatest countries in the world then it must live up to those words. It cannot allow its people to suffer and die for the crime of being unable to access or afford adequate healthcare. This country can do better. In fact, it has a duty to do better. Though the prospects of passing Medicare for All seem dim, one can still dream. It is always worth advocating for change, if only to generate the momentum for it down the line. For a cause like health care, it is always worth trying.