Carlos is a 21 year old Medical Science graduate from the University of Birmingham. He’s currently working as a Trainee Analyst within the NHS and has a keen interest in liberation issues as well as science and politics.
The Freebie Express: The Question of Free Healthcare
The issue of free healthcare is an extremely divisive one. It tends to invite strong opinions and inspires very heated debates. As a Medical Science graduate, and NHS employee, I cannot help but feel passionately about the subject. I recently came across a tweet which unknowingly prompted me to delve into the world of writing. The tweet in question came courtesy of a Trump supporter (I know, you must’ve seen that coming) and made my blood boil in a way that really stuck with me. It read @_0hour1_ “#votearama no more free healthcare for illegals [too] bad so sad get a job. the freebie express is coming to [an] end for the gimmie brigade.” Unfortunately, the aforementioned account has been suspended, so I can’t show you a screenshot. Though I can say that his avi was him in a V for Vendetta mask which about sums him up. Unfortunately, (fortunately for this article) this isn’t the only tweet to say something to this effect. Some of you may have heard of the following controversial tweet:
Comparing healthcare to buying fancy furniture is just … too much to discuss in this article. The total lack of empathy, and general lack of understanding is incredibly troubling to say the least. Far too often are issues oversimplified to better suit a right-wing agenda of scapegoating the poor, the non-white, the gays, the foreign, and totally fail to identify the real problems and how to effectively tackle them.
In order to better look at the real issues within this debate, I take the US as an example and explore the implications of appealing their Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, provides low income families with access to health insurance, something which a lot of Republicans are eager to repeal. Before I go on it’s important to understand that this isn’t free healthcare. In fact, as I will describe later, it is still a flawed system but it provides a useful case study when considering the consequences of making access to healthcare more difficult. The figures themselves are astounding. A report by the Congressional Budget Office, in conjunction with Joint Committee of Taxation, has deduced that just 1 year after the loss of ACA; 18 million people will lose their insurance. By 10 years, this figure will rise to 32 million, because the loss of Medicaid and subsidised insurance would not have an immediate effect. There will also be a number of people whose insurance wouldn’t run out until after ACA is repealed. Interestingly, repealing ACA would make healthcare insurance more expensive for all Americans, including those who currently don’t qualify for ACA. Insurance premiums are expected to have a 20-25% increase in the year following the loss of ACA, and 10 years later they will have nearly doubled. This is because as fewer people are insured, more will be sick and will be forced to pay the higher premiums.
However, as mentioned before, ACA is not a perfect program. Research carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that even with ACA, healthcare is still too expensive for some families. In 2015, 46% of uninsured adults claimed they tried to get coverage but were unable to because it was too expensive. Removing ACA would only put more people in this situation. The foundation also found that lack of free healthcare disproportionately affects people of colour, and that it is these groups which benefit the most from schemes like ACA. For a nation such as the US, which prides itself in being “the land of the free”, it strikes me as contradictory to charge its citizens for the benefit of living a healthy life. It seems that the only people that are truly “free” in today’s contemporary society are the rich straight while males, while oppressed groups in society are left to fend for themselves, oftentimes having any progress undone by government legislation, such as the proposed repeal of ACA. Disturbingly, 20% of uninsured adults in 2015 received no treatment due to cost, leaving them in great danger. Similarly, uninsured individuals are less likely to receive treatment for totally preventable conditions, and receive less support for major and chronic conditions.
Worryingly, healthcare in America is in such a state that even those with insurance are still not guaranteed access to healthcare. Figures taken from the research carried out by Kaiser Family Foundation show that 6% of people under private healthcare go without medication due to cost, compared to 15% of those insured under ACA and 20% of uninsured people. Asides from the clear indication that this system still leaves even “hardworking” people at risk, the total lack of empathy and humanity rising from the commodification of healthcare makes this a toxic cocktail of failure on every level.
It is ethically incomprehensible to force people to pay for their own health. It ignores the most vulnerable in society, leaving them to fend for themselves. Are elderly people with Alzheimer’s expected to hit the pavement in look of work in order to pay for their healthcare? Are single parents expected to take on further jobs, compromising their own health in order to protect their children’s? The whole concept is baffling, and I hope for the sake of countless people that we learn from the US’ mistakes and our NHS survives Hunt’s grimy little hands. The NHS treats over 1 million people every 36 hours, and it is a body which not only treats patients in the front line but also funds invaluable research which helps save lives here and abroad. I fear for the future of healthcare if it becomes privatised – I worry that as capitalism corrupts one of the most noble professions that patientcare will become a money-making factory and the wellbeing of people will be compromised.
Congressional Budget Office: https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/52371-coverageandpremiums.pdf
Kaiser Family Foundation: http://kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/key-facts-about-the-uninsured-population/