To Have Universal Healthcare, We Have Stop Punishing The Poor For Being Poor

You know it, I know it, and it’s time we all admitted it

Today, millions of Americans seem convinced that healthcare should only be provided to those they consider to be worthy of such support — and those lucky few usually don’t include the long-term poor. They may say that they’re just being practical — that we can’t afford to pay healthcare costs for everyone — but the truth is that they don’t want to see the poor get coverage.

These beliefs have made it almost impossible to discuss the real issues affecting healthcare costs, quality and consumer access to appropriate care. It’s hard to get into a discussion of where healthcare dollars should be spent when critics are more worried about whether some horrible poor person is taking something away from them.

At least some percentage of U.S. citizens believes that it’s morally wrong to offer complete, comprehensive healthcare to all US citizens regardless of their ability to pay.

The reality is that at least some percentage of U.S. citizens believe that it’s morally wrong to offer complete, comprehensive healthcare to all US citizens regardless of their ability to pay. Regardless of how expensive healthcare gets, these skeptics still cling to the notion that only lazy, ignorant and irresponsible people can’t pay healthcare bills. If so, they argue, why should their taxes pay to spare them the consequences of their bad behavior?

And these beliefs lead to huge blockades on the way to offering coverage for all. For example, according to a study conducted this summer by the Pew Research Center, 66% of people who identify as Republican or leaning Republican still believe that seeing to it that people have healthcare is not the government’s problem.

Regardless of their party affiliation, many consumers buy into the following healthcare myths, including that:

  • Hospitals, most of which are non-profits and don’t pay taxes, will use those resources to shrink or even cancel patient medical bills
  • People can pay $10,000 per family deductibles and thousands in co-pays during a year if they really want to.
  • The system offers care to everyone. After all, can’t anyone just walk into a hospital emergency department and be seen?

While some of these beliefs represent genuine ignorance, others are being pumped into their heads continuously by Fox News and its ilk. Right-wing leaders are very much opposed to universal healthcare which they fear, for good reason, will undercut or destroy the massive profits generated by giants like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and health insurers.

Right-wing leaders are very much opposed to universal healthcare which they fear, for good reason, will undercut or destroy the massive profits generated by giants like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and health insurers.

So what do we do about it? We make it clear to consumers who’s really taking their money away from them and the consequences of letting the giants controlling healthcare stay in power. Perhaps even more importantly, we need to warn them of the likelihood that they will be the next big loser when they face an immense medical bill and the vicious system that exists grinds their lives into powder.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, most of the battles over establishing universal healthcare system focus on broad questions about the appropriate role of the federal government in addressing citizens’ needs, rather than the practical outcome that can be expected if a given policy is implemented.

I’ve long argued that it’s time to put aside such ideological battles and get serious real about costs and efficient spending. With premium contributions and deductible costs eating up 11.5% of median household income in 2019, up from 9.1% a decade earlier, we’re reaching a crisis point in which in some cases, families are throwing more money at healthcare than on their mortgage or childcare.

Other measures of the rapidly expanding rate of family healthcare expenses the following data from the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS):

If we hope to tame healthcare expenses, deliver high-quality care and serve the greatest number of people, we have to get practical. And the truth is that there are completely practical, non-ideological reasons to institute universal healthcare access in the US.

The truth is that there are completely practical, non-ideological reasons to institute universal healthcare access in the US.

To accomplish this, we have to get embrace one simple and salient fact: That the healthcare system as it is is designed to fail consumers. It isn’t there to care for their health. Not really. What it’s really there for is to surgically extract much of the nation’s disposal wealth — -period, end of discussion.

Sadly, however, many people don’t see what’s going on. The truth underlying many of the arguments against universal healthcare is that a subset of Americans believe that healthcare is a privilege that should only be available to those whom they consider to be worthy, particularly given that these additional bodies add costs to the system.

This unlovely attitude springs from a deep Puritan streak that runs through the American national character.

Even progressive reforms still seem to focus on the “deserving” poor, who are presumably more valuable human beings than those who struggle with, say mental issues, a criminal past or drug abuse. As one researcher suggests, even the Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act demonstrates not a change in such thinking, but rather concern about the high costs of care.

To change this dynamic, we’ll need to spend a lot of time explaining to ordinary people how the healthcare system truly works and where the money goes. We’ll also have to confront them, as respectfully as possible, about the immense problems involved in demanding their form of virtue from the sick and poor before they’ll agree to support healthcare programs that offer them access.

Sure, they may believe they’re protecting their family by blocking undesirables from getting expensive healthcare on the state or federal time. But they need to learn that they’re getting hornswoggled.

Sure, they may believe they’re protecting their family by blocking undesirables from getting expensive healthcare on the state or federal time. But they need to learn that they’re getting hornswoggled — that the real costs in the system are due to providing for the medically indigent, but rather, paying for massively overpriced medications, hospital services, insurance companies, medical device manufacturers and other hungry industry players.

The bottom line is that if we spend time squabbling over which group of people should be given government-funded care, and whether some of the poor don’t “deserve” such help, we’re aren’t paying attention to the ways in which the healthcare system robs us blind.

And if people really are worried that about covering their families’ healthcare costs, it makes no sense to blame the single mother struggling to support her family on a minimum wage job or a family whose primary wage-earner becomes disabled.

The ultimate goal needs to be setting up a universal healthcare system with the clout needed to control the outrageous healthcare costs we face today.

The ultimate goal needs to be setting up a universal healthcare system with the clout needed to control the outrageous healthcare costs we face today. While no amount of fussing over the way a given individual or family ended up poor will make a meaningful dent in healthcare access, the muscle government brings to the table might actually get the job done.

Until most people realize this, however, we’re trapped by political beliefs favoring gatekeeping and judgment over actually seeing to it that our healthcare dollars are well spent. As long as large numbers of Americans feel the need to punish those who can’t afford basic healthcare, we’ll never get to the point where everyone gets what they need.

Anne Zieger has been a writer for almost 30 years. She's interested in life, the universe and everything.

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