The Healthcare Divide

BY ELIZABETH RAMIN

When I was 10 years old, I broke my collarbone on Christmas Day. I still remember how vulnerable I felt, and how relieving it was that my parents seemed to be able to get everything I needed to help me recover. They took me to the hospital and I had X-Rays, got a sling, and took medication to help with the pain. All the while, I had the comfort of knowing that my mother is a nurse and my father is a doctor and that both of them would be able to help me through the process. However, at that age, I did not understand that their jobs were what was giving me healthcare, and just how that healthcare gave us the resources to deal with my injury. When I was 15 years old, I injured my foot, and I was a mess. I was in great pain, and the only thing consoling me was how in control my parents seemed to be. Once again, my mom and dad helped me get through it, this time getting me a doctor, x-rays, crutches and a medical boot. Everything I needed materialized. With this second injury happening when I was older, my father took the opportunity to teach me about the healthcare system. With an injured foot and downtime in a hospital lobby, I was a captive audience. I began to understand that my needs were met at least in part because of health care insurance and access to medical care that my parents made sure we had through my father’s job. During a lengthy discussion about my treatment, I was shocked to find out that it costs our family $22,000 for just one year of medical insurance. 

Since my mother and father both work in the healthcare industry, the politics of healthcare are often a subject of conversation at my house. The conversations can get intense, and emotions run high. My father talks about how being an emergency medicine doctor is like being on the front line of the healthcare crisis. My mother talks about the difficult and often sad cases she sees as a home health nurse. She often cares for the elderly and she tells us of the difficult circumstances their families face paying for their healthcare needs. Most of them find health care costs are rapidly depleting their life savings when they are old, retired and no longer able to earn income. Along with hearing about her patients, I hear how my grandparents face the same issue–a lack of funds to deal with the health problems they are having. It is difficult to hear how people I love are struggling with finances in their retirement years, and the greatest threats to their personal situation are the out of control expenses and unknowns of health care needs. These personal experiences, as well as learning about the growing number of people uninsured and unable to manage their finances in the face of injury or illness, lead me to feel that healthcare is the most important issue to me in the 2020 election.

In 2018, 8.5% of Americans (27.5 million people) did not have health insurance at any point in the year. In 2017, 25.6 million people did not have health insurance (US Census Bureau). This means that the number of uninsured people in the U.S. is growing. Being uninsured is not the only issue: there are still millions more who are underinsured and face grave financial hardships because of health care costs. Even with insurance, those people are unable to see doctors and receive treatments when needed, simply because they don’t have enough money to afford substantial healthcare or to pay for the treatments themselves. How can we accept that? Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey once said that, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped” (Humphrey).  Considering how much we have grown as a country and all of the resources we have access to, it is immoral to not have a better system in place to provide medical care to those in greatest need of help. As a country, we have a duty to help those who cannot help themselves, and a better healthcare system is crucial in ensuring that we are fulfilling that duty.

In all of my research, one fundamental truth stands out: healthcare is not a privilege but a human right. Many politicians use similar words when they discuss access to healthcare, and at times, this statement sounds like a simplified catchy slogan. But as the 2020 election nears and I learn more about the issue, I have come to the conclusion that this statement is much more powerful and meaningful than any cliché. Nobody should feel hindered in getting the medical care they need. Nobody should fear that if they become ill or injured that they will have to fear being bankrupt as well. Nobody should have to decide between their health and other essential needs like housing and food. The issue is complex, and there is much to consider and debate as the 2020 election approaches. However, one thing is clear: change needs to occur, so that all Americans, no matter their income, have access to the care they need without worrying about overwhelming healthcare costs.