Why America Needs Universal Health Care & Longer Parental Leave

Salaam Bhatti
May 17 · 3 min read

$28,000.

Four weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed our son into the universe.

That amount above?

The total cost billed by insurance.

A day of joy faded as I thought about my privilege of having health insurance and paid parental leave. Thanks to health insurance & benefits I receive from work, we had to pay none of the cost or deductible. Yet, the Census reports that 28.5 million Americans are uninsured and the Commonwealth Fund reports that 44 million are underinsured. Over 70 million of these Americans would face a bill that would derail their entire life. Why are we okay with this?
The reality is that these 70 million outnumber the wealthy 1%. Yet, the 1% have found the ultimate loophole of hamstringing a democracy to bolster their own interests. Rather than use democracy to reduce wealth inequality, democracy itself has been reduced.

People say that the system is broken. It isn’t. It’s doing what it was designed to do: hurt the poor. An otherwise joyous moment of welcoming a baby is marred with financial stresses. Critics then say, “If you can’t afford to have kids, then don’t have kids”. When they could instead challenge the status quo, “If the system doesn’t let millions ‘afford’ kids, then let’s change the system because families are more important than corporations.”

Here’s what the status quo wants:
an unprecedented $750 billion dollar budget request for the Department of Defense. -

For a single year.
Spending hasn’t been like this since WW2, with spikes during Iraq/Afghan wars.

Conversely, The American Prospect states it would cost $175.3 billion/year to raise the poor above the poverty line, which would be a net benefit to taxpayers. It would reduce spending on other social welfare programs. The money would go right back into the economy and, as a result, everyone would benefit domestically rather than waging wars overseas.

Birthing aside, we don’t get time to spend with our babies. 25% of US moms return to work 2 weeks after delivery. When our son was 2 weeks old, our heads were still spinning. Returning to work so soon would cause stress, illness, time off work, & more poverty.
Does it have to be like this? Not at all. Other developed nations, like Scandinavian countries, have nearly year-long maternity leave policies, free higher education, & universal health care. There is nothing preventing America from replicating and even surpassing this model.

So when a politician claims to be for “family values” but hasn’t pushed for longer, paid parental leave and universal healthcare , then remember that come election day. If the other developed nations can figure it out, so can we. Our kids deserve better.

So what can we do to change this? Here are a few ideas:
•Support candidates who support universal health care. It’s wildly popular among people no matter their party affiliation.
•Focus on state elections, not just national ones. States can also adopt broader health programs to reach universal coverage. Ask candidates if they think it is okay for people to into severe debt or bankrupt for having a baby.
•Educate yourself. There’s plenty of misinformation claiming that universal coverage has resulted in massive lines in Canada & UK. It’s nonsense — both nations have high approval ratings for their health systems. They’re not perfect. Neither is our system. But the difference is their citizens don’t go bankrupt for having a baby.

Having a baby is hard. My wife did most (ok, all) of the work, and so I’d love to see her have more maternity leave to focus on our son. And I would love for my son to grow up in a nation where health care was not a privilege.

These are rights that every person in America should have.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade