The world has seen a continuous rise and fall of great empires. The Romans, the Aztecs, and the Mongols all saw their ascension but eventual demise. However, out of the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new global hegemon emerged: A land of opportunity where grit, determination, and a meritocratic philosophy reign supreme. The United States of America became the light at the end of the tunnel for millions of people worldwide. The American ethos welcomes everyone with the promise of opportunity for success through perseverance and dedication. Nevertheless, it seems like some areas of life do not follow this aura of possibility but seem to be the antithesis.
The United States is the largest economy in the world but still lacks fundamental social safety nets, most noticeably healthcare. Even though the yearly budget for health care is USD 4.1 billion (The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, 2022), the healthcare system is severely flawed. For the average person, the principal factors are the lack of accessibility and the outrageous cost.
Unlike most developed countries, healthcare in the US is tied to employment. The birth of the privatized healthcare system comes from a World War II-era tactic for attracting workers. Most people did not have private insurance; contemporarily, around 175 million Americans get healthcare coverage through their employers (Gorenstein, 2017). In today’s US, losing one’s job holds a heavier burden than in other countries or generations. Moreover, there are critical disparities between those who desperately need high-quality treatment and those who actually receive it. It has become common practice that insurance companies discourage some treatments due to their price. A rigorous bureaucratic process is needed even to be considered. According to 78% of doctors, this lack of efficiency causes patients to forego prescribed therapies, and 92% of doctors believe it suspends treatment (Robeznieks, 2018). Furthermore, this avoidance of necessary treatment may lead to further deterioration of the patient’s health and consequently requires more complex and expensive alternatives.
Besides the lack of accessibility, the actual cost of treatment is exuberant. In the United States, healthcare spending was USD 11,945 per person; this is around double the USD 5,736 price tag in symmetrical OECD nations (OECD Health Statistics, 2020). While being the highest healthcare spenders globally in proportion to their GDP, the cost and quality do not align. This healthcare system ranks inferiorly to most comparable OECD nations on numerous fundamental criteria. Most noticeably maternal mortality, preventable hospital admissions, and life expectancy, while having the worst suicide rate, chronic disease burden, avoidable deaths, and obesity (OECD Health Statistics, 2019). Consequently, 43% of Americans were “not very/not at all happy” with their nation’s public health system (Statista, 2019).
In more specific terms, the United States is the home of some disheartening medical trends. It has become increasingly common to avoid the ambulance and use alternative services such as uber in times of emergency. Between 2017 and 2020, the average fee for BLS emergency ground ambulance services grew from $800 to $940, resulting in around an 18% rise. Over that time, the typical authorized amount for the same services increased from $373 to $522, almost a staggering 40% rise (Pifer, 2022). Ambulance services are so absurdly expensive that many must seek alternatives to avoid economic hardships.
Moreover, 37.3 million people in the United States had diabetes in 2019 (American Diabetes Association, 2022). Regardless that around 11% of the population has this condition, an unbelievable phenomenon has been occurring. Yale researchers reported that in 2019, one in four people with diabetes reported using less insulin than prescribed because of the crippling expense (Herkert D, Vijayakumar P, Luo J, 2019). The United States ranks the highest in insulin cost among all comparable OECD nations. The average manufacturer price for any particular kind of insulin in the US was USD 98.70, approximately 4.6 times higher than second place Chile’s USD 21.48 and around 11 times higher than the USD 8.81 average price in all other OECD nations (RAND Corporation, 2020). This is without considering the USD 275 for uninsured patients (Prasad, 2019). The exuberant cost has led to almost standard practice for people with diabetes to ration insulin to stay alive physically and financially. Unfortunately, this notion causes multiple deaths per year (Right Care Alliance, 2019).
It is unacceptable that the country that represents almost a quarter of the global GDP, almost 23 trillion, has such an exploitative and incomprehensibly expensive healthcare system (The World Bank. 2021). While many argue that the reason behind this is its practical impossibility, I severely disagree. The United States 2023 fiscal year defense budget is USD 773 billion, 4.1% higher than that of 2022 (US Department of Defense, 2022). Furthermore, they allocated USD 3.8 billion to aid the Israeli military in 2020 (Horton, 2021). Moreover, the Pharmaceuticals and Health Products Industry have a massive influence on policy and rhetoric, as they are notoriously one of the largest lobbying sectors in the country. In only the first quarter of 2021, the pharmaceutical and health products sector spent roughly USD 92 million on lobbying, the highest of any industry (Forrest, 2021).
There is no excuse for the lack of essential social safety nets where your opportunity to survive is directly related to labor and wealth. Only mentioning Canada and the UK, two of the USA’s most prominent allies, are evident examples of successful health systems that do not put you in a dichotomous decision between health or bankruptcy. With the profuse amount of money available, this is a choice, not an infeasibility. With the global pandemic showing how necessary these systems are while also proving stories of families left with medical bills of over a million USD (Kliff, 2021), the time for action is now. The American people have to demand change; neo-imperialism and money for campaigns should not be secondary to the well-being of people.
Featured image by: iStock