Health Care Takes Center Stage

Angel Benjamin, News Editor

Is healthcare a human right? This question is, essentially, at the root of the discussion related to healthcare in the United States. In today’s age and society, healthcare is a crucial component for people. It is an essential part of one’s quality of life, and it can have a significant impact over one’s finances and life expectancy. However, in the United States, healthcare has become a major concern because of one simple fact: it’s too expensive for too little coverage.
For most, healthcare is understood to be all the medical checkups, dental procedures, physical therapy sessions, and other services that people receive every day by medical professionals. During political debates and discussions, however, the word carries more complexity to it, encompassing more than just doctors checking blood pressure and taking your temperature. Healthcare refers to the entire system and the relationship between citizens, insurance companies, and medical service providers.
Traditionally, citizens pay insurance companies to aid them with medical costs, and these insurance companies pay hospitals and medical centers for their services. Often though, only certain services are covered under one’s insurance, which results in people having to figure out other ways to pay for what they may need. These costs are often referred to as “out of pocket” expenses, and represent a portion of the estimated $10,000 per person spending on health care in 2018 as reported by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development according to Investopedia.
In the United States, the healthcare system is mostly made up of private insurance companies and the government-funded programs Medicare and Medicaid. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), a federal agency, private health insurance accounted for 34 percent of all health care coverage in 2017, and accounted for 1.2 trillion dollars in spending. Following private health care were Medicare at a 20 percent share, and Medicaid at a 17 percent share of all medical coverage. Out-of-Pocket payments by patients accounted for a 10 percent share of spending.
The two publicly funded programs, Medicare and Medicaid, were established as part of the Great Society reforms by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Originally passed with the purpose of instituting national healthcare, Medicare provides for those aged over 65 (and those who are younger with a disability) while Medicaid tends to those with limited incomes. Funded by a large portion of the federal budget, the two programs aid millions across the nation every day.
Over the past decade, healthcare has seen a wave of changes. In 2010, former President Barack Obama introduced the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) to extend healthcare coverage to millions of uninsured citizens. Under this law, health insurers are required to cover basic services, and private health insurance is offered by the government through online marketplaces. More recently, President Donald Trump repealed an individual mandate of the law that required citizens to either purchase healthcare or pay a tax. Nonetheless, the whole process of attempting to reform the nation’s system has been long and difficult.
With healthcare costs growing more expensive each year, many people struggle to afford even the most basic healthcare needs. The source of this issue resides in the fact that healthcare in the United States has become largely about business, and many hospitals and medical centers have, according to CNBC commentator Jaden Urbi, turned from “philanthrop[ies] into corporation[s].” Many hospitals and medical centers are owned by private companies in which the goal of hospitals is easily bloated by profit and not patient care. Urbi describes it as “putting a price on human health” and notes that by 1983, “1 in 7 U.S. hospitals were run by for-profit companies.” Due to the current structure of our healthcare system, many politicians strive to improve the system to make it more affordable and accessible for all citizens, with ideas ranging from free healthcare-for-all to more public insurance for the middle class. However, there are underlying questions concerning these proposals, especially regarding their affordability and accessibility. The topic becomes especially contentious when other political topics like immigration begin to merge with healthcare and create a maelstrom of disagreement. Questions abound: If it were to be free for everyone in the country, then who would pay? What would we do with private insurance companies? Would non-citizens be covered? How would free healthcare affect doctors?
Now standing at the start of a new decade, citizens are carefully analyzing the proposals of this year’s presidential candidates, especially when it comes to healthcare. Despite their shared party status, their ideas for healthcare vary wildly. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, plans to eliminate private insurance, extend coverage to non-citizens, and create a public option. On the topic of private insurance, Mayor Pete Buttigieg would keep private insurance for now and allow for undocumented immigrants to receive coverage through a public option. Senator Elizabeth Warren herself agrees with Sanders’ views regarding this.
Healthcare remains a significant political concern and factors when deciding which candidate to vote for in 2020. Even the youngest of voters must think about their own health and plans for medical care in the future. When they receive prescriptions or attend appointments, how much do they expect to pay from their own wallets? More importantly, what is the best plan for not only their present but also their future? Such are questions we must pose to ourselves as we move forward.