Among the worst effects of capitalism in America is our healthcare “system.”
But let’s first do a little thought experiment. Let’s imagine a utopian society in which all men, women, children (of all pigments, races, religions) are “created equal,” all benefiting from the ideals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Now let’s build into this perfect society a single problem – a key limitation: health insurance rationed, made available as a matter of employment or purchase from a private insurer or by qualification through some government agency. The result: only 75%- 80% of those in this otherwise perfect society are adequately health-insured.
The result? — predictable: this otherwise free and equal society will develop a caste system, one group falling behind all the others and being told they only have to be better educated, work harder but, failing that, must be in some way inferior.
Of course we don’t have to imagine this result. We see it around us every day — in the daily COVID-19 statistics, in the numbers of Black people, others of color, and native Americans experiencing the greater numbers of viral disease and death. These numbers are simply the very big tip of a very much larger problem.
Without healthcare insurance, you get: less care by a family doctor; the delay of care when sick; insufficient care during pregnancy and reduced neonatal care such as lapses in vaccination; diminished preventive care and fewer basic diagnostics; the inability to pay for prescribed drugs; reduced access to health information; or simply (especially for immigrants, legal or illegal) refusal of care.
Bottom line: inequalities in healthcare directly translate to economic disadvantage.
We need hardly provide the reminder that the U.S. is the lone developed country without universal healthcare, that for various reasons we have decided to go our own way, to be “exceptional.” And while trying to be superior we’ve managed to provide a nearly third-world level of healthcare to a significant minority of us.
Compared to other nations we rank at or near the top in obesity, infant mortality, heart and lung disease, and sexually transmitted disease. In one recent study, the U.S. ranked 29th in healthcare access and quality. In another, we rank 31st in life expectancy (actually declining somewhat in 2016 and 2017 because of drug overdose), lower in particular than our European counterparts, even when considering the factors of race, income, diet, smoking, and education.
Then there is simply our higher costs. America pays twice as much as the average yearly cost of healthcare in the other developed countries: in 2017, nearly $11,000 per person vs. somewhat over $5,000 per person.
The obvious question: why? Why have we taken this lone path to an exceptionally poor result? Well, one reason lies in a single phrase, two words I first heard from a general practitioner many moons ago — that GP being one of my uncles. The words were “socialized medicine.”
Of course, for Americans the word “socialism” contains a baggy array of scary ideas: fear of all-powerful government; the loss of personal liberty; and, worst of all, most horrid of all, communism. And for my uncle and all other physicians, universal healthcare threatened not being able to make as much money as considered necessary for a top professional. Additionally, “socialized” medicine meant that big business would not be able to make as much money as it deserves.
The fact is that American healthcare is a money-making proposition.
Though healthcare should be a basic human right – like public education, like due process when accused of crime, like personal privacy – in America it is a money machine. It is predatory capitalism, providing great wealth for big business and, at the same time, creating systemic abuse of many that deepens other inequalities.
Universal healthcare for America of course has been attempted, perhaps most aggressively by Hillary Clinton; and aggressively beaten back by insurance companies spending millions to taint it as a frightening innovation. Most recently, it was expressed as a primary goal by Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, with the first word failing to assuage continuing fear of the second.
Currently, America’s healthcare – and the health of Americans – is becoming even worse. Unemployment has cost many their health insurance, with Republicans continuing the overtly heartless attempt to eliminate Obamacare, jeopardizing this excruciatingly significant benefit for a countless number of Americans.
Even if the GOP’s effort is beaten back, the possibility of efficient, single-payer healthcare is bleak, given the massive lobbying against it by private insurers and the continuing fear of socialism as a pervasive evil. Without universal healthcare insurance, we will continue to see – and pass on to our grandchildren – an expensive patchwork of access, with a legacy of poor health and early death.
And American healthcare will continue to function as capitalism in its most predatory form.