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A Broken System: Detailing the Shortcomings of US Healthcare Coverage

Posted: January 22, 2020 | By: Gabi Watkins Tagged: Blog

“Medicare for all.” That statement has more often been associated with progressive candidates in this election cycle such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. When considering the merits of universal healthcare plans, the costs of accomplishing such a feat are invariably brought up. Interestingly, while moderators during the latest debate held on Drake’s campus extensively grilled both Sanders and Warren about their healthcare plans, they dedicated 45 minutes to questions on military intervention and foreign policy without ever stopping to question how much that would cost taxpayers. 

In this short blog post I, too, will raise questions about the costs of healthcare, more specifically the costs to the longevity and wellbeing of the American public that are not adequately addressed under our current healthcare plan and our debates. To kick this off, it’s worth noting that the United States is one of the only developed nations that does not offer a universal healthcare plan, and the American people pay the price. The US currently has one of the most expensive healthcare programs, largely due to administrative costs.  Americans pay more to run our healthcare system than other OECD countries, with costs reaching $3.6 trillion in 2018 alone.  With the amount of money spent on our healthcare system, you may think that we could point to outstanding results to show for it.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case. 

Compared to other wealthy countries, the United States has higher overall mortality rates and one of the highest infant mortality rates among OECD member-states. Rising “deaths of despair” can also be attributed to healthcare costs and lack of access to quality care. Currently, medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States and recent proposals to cut coverage to pre-existing conditions would only lead to increases in these statistics.

According to the Commonwealth Fund’s Scorecard on State Health System Performance, 30 million adults were uninsured in 2018. Notably, individuals who fall below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line and elderly individuals are at the highest risk of being among the uninsured population. If you’re familiar with the American healthcare system, you’ll know that these two demographics are those who would qualify for Medicaid and Medicare respectively; why then, do they not have health coverage?

Most Americans are uninsured because they’re unable to afford the costs associated with health insurance. Being on state-sponsored health programs like Medicaid and Medicare does not mean that you have your entire healthcare covered, and many states choose to charge premium rates tied to household income. For example, in Iowa, in 2019, the lowest average monthly premium cost was $467, the national average was $360.

While the Affordable Care Act expanded healthcare coverage, it increased the deductible prices for many with private insurance plans. Additionally, not all states have expanded their ACA plans, causing many households to linger in the insurance gap. While the income of many Americans remains static, insurance costs have continued to rise – making healthcare costs unobtainable for many households; as a result, many Americans avoid often necessary doctor visits to avoid accruing unreasonable fees.

More than half of Americans between 18 and 65 receive health benefits from their employers, which can be an added incentive to taking a salaried job but contributes to stagnated wages among the middle class. This also means that when your job expires, so too does your health coverage – an experience that affected my family in 2016. 

A universal health care plan would allow ALL Americans to access the healthcare system, foregoing the prices that drive individuals away while cutting down on the administrative costs currently ridding our system inoperable.

Consider this: the DOW Jones Industrial average recently hit 29,000, a record high; while many celebrated this feat, even more, wondered how they were going to pay their medical expenses on top of all their other bills. Somethings got to give here, and as we enter the first leg of the presidential nomination process, I urge you to reflect on your candidate’s healthcare plan. Consider the real cost of maintaining our current, broken system. Ask yourself, how many more Americans must die or declare bankruptcy before we can justify providing quality health coverage to all?