The Real Epidemic in America: A Lack of Universal Healthcare

Image Courtesy of Wannapik

Sharon Yin, Queens University.


2020 has been a whirlwind of a year, with an ongoing pandemic sweeping the world off its feet. Nations in every corner of the world are still coping with the ongoing challenges the pandemic brings and the alarming rate at which it continues to spread.

The pandemic has brought on a great deal of economic turmoil and has heightened financial hardships. This has been especially evident in the United States, with over 22 million American jobs lost in the past six months alone, and many more Americans working, but still struggling to get by on low wages and reduced hours. While a quick glance at other countries will show that economic situations aren’t much better elsewhere, this economic crisis is especially problematic for the U.S. America’s “working poor” and those who have recently lost their jobs, are suffering more than most; at least, when compared to those in the equivalently developed Western world.

Why? Because America differs from other developed nations in that it is the “only large rich country without universal healthcare”.  

Due to the nature of America’s healthcare system, nearly half of all non-elderly Americans have their health insurance provided to them through an employer. With the pandemic and the tremendous number of jobs lost as a result, many of these Americans could lose their health insurance during a time when they need it most.

To make matters worse, American healthcare is among the most expensive across the globe, making healthcare highly inaccessible and unaffordable to those who have recently lost their jobs (and thus their health insurance), and those with low-income. This creates a significant barrier to healthcare access for America’s underprivileged peoples.

Consequently, the burden that many Americans must shoulder exceeds those carried by the rest of us, who have the privilege of having access to universal healthcare. Low-income and recently unemployed Americans have taken a double hit. They are forced to cope with the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic in addition to grappling with a lack of health insurance during said pandemic. For these individuals, there is now an additional layer of fear and anxiety: contracting the virus but being unable to access treatment. Or perhaps, being able to access treatment, only to be shackled by the immense burden of medical debt down the line. As studies show, one in every six Americans have unpaid medical bills.

Evidently, this lack of universal healthcare in America disproportionately hurts low-income groups, and other vulnerable populations who may not have the means to afford proper care. This has been made especially clear in the current pandemic. These groups are especially vulnerable to the virus, because given the chance they do develop severe symptoms and require hospitalization, they may not be able to afford the care that they need. In a health crisis like the one we are in, no one should have to choose between good health and stable financials.

This is an entirely different story for the wealthy elite in America. For these powerful, wealthy, and “important” individuals in America, premium healthcare is readily accessible. These individuals tend to receive “preferential treatment”.

In our current pandemic for instance, when rich and powerful individuals test positive for the virus, they have greater odds against the virus due to their socioeconomic status. Donald Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, October 2, is a great example of this. Trump, despite his age and weight that make him especially susceptible to developing severe symptoms, is at better odds of recovery, since his socioeconomic status puts him at an advantage with “access to the best possible care” and having the “privilege of getting tested often”. This special treatment is a luxury that many Americans do not have, especially with the financial barriers that come with privatized healthcare.

The lack of universal healthcare creates division in America: those who are able to afford quality healthcare, and those who aren’t. This sets the stage for selectivity and prioritization of the wealthy in America’s healthcare system. But how can that be justified? Are the lives of the wealthy and powerful truly more important than those of the vulnerable and underprivileged?

Luckily, the Affordable Care Act, or affectionately known as Obamacare, which was implemented in 2010, seemed to disagree with this. Obamacare aimed to make healthcare insurance affordable for all Americans, not just the wealthy. It strived to protect consumers from the tactics of insurance companies, and most importantly, to help “people [who] were unemployed or had low-paying jobs… [or] couldn’t work because of a disability”. Although no policy is flawless, and roughly 28 million Americans are still uninsured as of 2018, that is more than pre-Obamacare’s America can say, which left about 44 million Americans without health insurance. With the introduction of this new policy, America’s medically uninsured rate has since seen a drastic decline. Since its implementation, more and more Americans are protected with healthcare insurance coverage.

Obamacare is the closest that America has come to a universal healthcare system. In recent years, however, Trump’s administration has outwardly expressed its desire to repeal the Act. There is a hearing against the Affordable Care Act that is expected to take place in the Supreme Court after the presidential election in November. This hearing may well “erase the Affordable Care Act from existence”, effectively robbing millions of Americans of their health insurance. Many of these Americans may be those who are most vulnerable and didn’t have health insurance prior to Obamacare.

The repeal of the Affordable Care Act has the potential to generate ripple effects in the American healthcare system. The abolishment of Obamacare, especially during an ongoing pandemic, may prove to be catastrophic for low-income groups or the unemployed in America. 

Lack of fear for the virus due to the guarantee of treatment is a privilege that many Americans fail to possess. Not everyone gets special treatment in a pandemic, and certainly, not everyone falls into the wealthy “elite” in America.

So, what happens to the vulnerable in America who are unable to afford healthcare insurance during a time like this when they need it most? What happens when Obamacare is taken away, and the vulnerable in America who previously relied on the Act, are left to fend for themselves?

The lack of universal healthcare is America’s second, obscured epidemic: but silently it rages like wildfire just south of the border.



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