Healthcare: America’s Most Serious Illness

Several years ago, when living in Shanghai, I wrote a series of articles for the Global Times newspaper about the state of healthcare in China. A friend of mine was so appalled by reading about the conditions in China’s healthcare system that she jokingly gave me the following advice on how to handle it: “Don’t get sick.”


I recently moved back to the US, and the same advice, word for word, was given to me just yesterday about dealing with America’s healthcare system: “Don’t get sick.”


The guidance — humorous but shrewd — was given to me as a result of several weeks that involved me applying for individual healthcare insurance. Not currently working for a company or organization, I am responsible for insuring myself, and that is where the trouble begins. The system is rigged against the individual.


After several three-hour phone calls with insurance brokers over the past two weeks, I came to the conclusion that the system is deliberately complicated, outrageously expensive, and designed to consume endless amounts of customers’ time, money, and energy.


Naturally, what it boils down to is cost. An insurance plan – “coverage,” as it is misleadingly called – can amount to anywhere from $500 to $1200 per month. That’s $6,000 to $14,400 per year, off of one’s net income. These costs are absurd for the average American and can really only be comfortably absorbed by those who are in the very upper income brackets. It detracts significantly from any savings one is attempting to make, and is a result of a system that seeks to reward the wealthy (i.e. doctors) and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the common man. It is sadly symptomatic of a direction our country has taken.


As for coverage, it varies from situation to situation, such as emergencies, and patients are only allowed to use certain hospitals and certain doctors. The deductibles in many cases are so high that most visits to a doctor would not even be covered. Just hearing the conditions and reading the fine print from the companies’ representatives makes one’s head spin in confusion. If a company hypothetically hired someone to make the system more complicated, he would quit after a day due to the inability to make things even more labyrinthine than they already are.


I consider myself a patriotic American. I support many of the principles we stand for; I am a huge admirer of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution; I believe we have been an inspiration to the world in so many ways. At the same time, we suffer from many ills, and our healthcare system is the biggest illness of all.


The system would make our Founding Fathers turn over in their graves. How can a country that is so intent on the rights of humankind have a healthcare system that is so inhuman? If indeed all people are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, then surely this implies that all are entitled to healthcare, irrespective of how much money they are earning. There are currently 44 million Americans without healthcare, and a further 38 million whose healthcare is inadequate. Based on the conditions I heard from the representatives, the 38 million number seems low, as insurance companies have succeeded in making sure that their coverage doesn’t actually “cover” very much.


While I am not a huge fan of Hilary Clinton, I cannot help recalling a statement she made in the 1990s: “We have the best healthcare in the world, and the stupidest healthcare system in the world”.


It is not a system for a First World country, and we pride ourselves on being a world leader. It is a system that has no consideration for the poor or even the middle class. It represents a philosophy so prevalent in America, one of survival-of-the-fittest, which really only means survival-of-the-richest.


The only argument I’ve heard in its defense is, “Just earn more money.” Thank you! Why didn’t I think of that? Of course, the classic American view of poverty is that if you’re poor, it’s your own fault and you should suffer for it.


The fact that most Americans with health insurance are covered by their companies is also disturbing. Lose your job, and you lose your healthcare. It means that the company has a noose around your neck which they can pull at any time, and encourages the enslavement to corporate culture which continues to plague our country.


A survival-of-the-fittest mentality is the law of the jungle. It is the law of animals. Is this what Americans aspire to, as people whom Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the last best hope of Earth”?


Finally, our healthcare problem is stressful. Walk through any American restaurant and you will hear at least one table conversation that is about someone’s healthcare story. The amount of time spent on discussing such a serious and boring topic is a shame. Leisure time should be free to be spent on leisurely topics.


The solution? We need to start from the premise that healthcare is a basic human right, and that must to be available to all, regardless of income. After that, we work our way upwards and rebuild the system. There are plenty of working models for us to look at for guidance.


We are the richest country in the world, with the stupidest healthcare system in the world. The contrast between those two phrases is a disgrace.


Tom McKinley is the author of Winning the Fight to Be Happy and Make the Right Decisions Early.


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