In recent years, access to affordable healthcare has continuously expanded. The Patient Protect and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 expanded coverage to millions of Americans, which has been adopted by over 40 states. In March, North Carolina became the latest state to opt into the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. But measures like the ACA haven’t been enough as too many Americans remain uninsured. It’s time for America to grow up and join the rest of the developed world in universal healthcare coverage.
When I was ten years old, my mom was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It destroyed me. It ripped apart the illusion of my picket-white fence life. It put me in a straw house with no other choice than to watch it fall apart around me. For the next seven years, my life consisted of blue hospital vomit bags, chemotherapy appointments, and a kitchen counter so laden with orange medicine bottles that it could’ve passed as a pharmacy.
My superhero of a mother survived seven years with a cancer that had a 14% chance of making it past five years. My sister and I chalk this up to my mom’s optimism, resilience, and, of course, her love for us. But the other reason that my mom was able to live for so long is that we were lucky enough to afford it.
On average, chemotherapy can cost thousands of dollars a month. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2019, the national economic burden of cancer care was $21.09 billion with more than half of those costs ($16 billion) made up of patient out-of-pocket costs This means that while sisters are saying goodbyes to brothers, while wives are saying goodbyes to husbands, while my mom was saying goodbye to me, the health insurance and pharmacology industries are unreasonably profiting.
This is where Medicare for All comes in. While it sounds scary thanks to the over-politicization of healthcare, it is really quite simple. Medicare for All would provide comprehensive, universal healthcare coverage for all Americans. It would eliminate the need for private insurance companies, decreasing the cost. Under the new system many different criteria wouldn’t increase your co-pay or deductible. Age? Doesn’t matter. Pre-existing conditions? Doesn’t matter. Tax bracket? Doesn’t matter. Under Medicare for All, every single American would be entitled to the lifesaving drugs, preventative care, and doctor’s appointments they require to survive.
Medicare for All would take the idea of healthcare as a privilege and flip it on its head. It would also probably flip it off — for good measure. Medicare for All would undoubtably declare, in bright sparkling letters, that healthcare is a fundamental right.
Medicare for All would mean that a woman wouldn’t have to choose between food and a breast cancer screening. It would mean that diabetics don’t even consider rationing their insulin because the prices increased again. It would mean that people like my mom would have the best chance at survival.
Opponents of Medicare for All will say that it’s too expensive. That it will increase taxes to an unbearable level. What they’re really saying is that the lives of people who make less money than them, who cannot afford healthcare at its current rate, are not important and worth saving.
But they’re also right.
Medicare for All, like any new government program, will cost money. However, peer-reviewed studies are finding that in the long-term, the new system will save America trillions of dollars within ten years. Not only will the federal government and individuals save money, but hospitals will save money from administrative billing costs and fights with drug companies.
The numbers aren’t lying. In 2019, 36,000 Americans died prematurely because they were uninsured. The same year, more than 500,000 households were forced to declare bankruptcy because of medical bills. The combination of high drug prices and high co-pays is killing Americans. According to a study by Yale University, more than 335,000 lives could’ve been saved during the pandemic if the U.S. had universal health care. Simply put, America, and all the politicians who have come out against Medicare for All, are stabbing us in the back, and then making us pay for it.
While America self-declared itself the home of the brave, the land of the free, under the current conditions it should consider a rebranding: America, the home of the uninsured and the land of people like my mom just trying to survive.
Elina Murarka (PPS ‘25) is from New Haven, CT and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.