Like many Americans, watching the debate last night between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz on the future state of healthcare gave me anxiety. I worked for an insurance company for five years coordinating the Member Services between the pharmaceutical, claims and enrollment departments. I also have a personal stake in the game — I’m a Type 1 Diabetic whose monthly prescriptions, out of pocket, would cost me $1,000.
I personally don’t have anything to be scared of. I have a job that’s provided me with a top insurance plan, but having worked for the system, and been through the system myself, I fear for every person who wakes up making choice regarding their healthcare based off of finances and not what’s right for them.
My first day working at the insurance company, I noticed a chart in the kitchen that was clipped from the Wall Street Journal. It detailed how surgery in the United States is performed at an astronomically higher rate than countries with single payer healthcare such as Denmark, England and Sweden. I wish I took a picture of that chart, because it taught me a lot. I found out soon enough that because studies showed that by providing every single citizen with access to preventative care, these countries spent far less on surgeries overall by maintaining an overall, higher quality of care. Because of this, we were going to adopt rules being drafted into the ACA before it was officially mandated, such as mandatory diabetic prescription coverage and free annual physicals.
Once the ACA was rolled out, we were able to keep our premiums the same since we already had these very important mandates in place. Those that didn’t have these mandates in place either had to end the plan or raise premiums and conform, because they simply weren’t up to par.
As we know, there is now a great threat of the ACA being repealed, and people want information. This week, CNN had Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Ted Cruz debate two sides of the issue. Audience members expressed their fears to the Senators. One audience member asked if pre-existing conditions would still be covered if the ACA is repealed — an issue many Americans are scared of. Ted Cruz claimed that the drafted plans that will replace the ACA would keep things like pre-existing conditions as mandates. My question is, where is that money coming from? Who will pay for it? In order for things like pre-existing conditions to be covered, premiums had to go up. Young, healthy people had to get enrolled in plans to even out the cost. And one day, those young, healthy people will get old, or god forbid get in an accident, and they’ll be very happy to have coverage because none of us are invincible. Ted Cruz eventually elaborated, saying that these things will only be mandated on a state level, and the states will get to decide if they keep the ACA or not. My guess is, many will repeal it, going back in time to six years ago when coverage was less expensive, but people feared their claims getting rejected after paying hundreds of dollars to their premiums each month. If we pay less in the short term, we end up paying more in the long term.
As Bernie Sanders acknowledged issues with the ACA, like people being fined for not buying insurance, he made clear he supports inching towards single payer healthcare. Ted Cruz made clear he believes in the free market of insurance companies, claiming several times that healthcare is better in the U.S. than other countries who abide by single-payer systems. From my experience in the industry, I can say that’s simply not the case for many of these countries. We have some of the most amazing doctors in the world, but many of those doctors don’t take insurance since they don’t want to accept a negotiated rate and charge higher prices, so they’re reserved for only the financially elite. I can give anecdotes too: I lived in England for six months, in Wolverhampton which is one of the country’s poorest cities. I received better care there as a Type 1 Diabetic than I have here in New York City without paying a dime.
To back up his claim, Ted Cruz gave statistics about how in the U.K., fewer cancer-diagnosed elderly people received chemo than younger people because the single-payer healthcare system results in rationing care. The truth is, oftentimes elderly people don’t receive chemo or surgeries because due to their age, the side effects of such medications or procedures can be more detrimental or trying than the disease itself. I suspect there’s a reason he left out the amount of cancer-diagnosed elderly people in the U.S. who don’t go through these treatments either. I could be wrong, but I wonder if the number actually looks similar to the U.K.
Ted Cruz also brought up that with single-payer healthcare, your taxes would go up. Yes, your taxes would probably go up. But wouldn’t you rather have 1-2% more taken out of your paycheck in taxes than spend $900 a month, only to be told you still need to meet a deductible when you go to the doctor?
The truth is, insurance companies do not give you access to better care. They force you to make decisions not based off of your needs, but on your finances. Insurance companies spend your money on billing, claims and overhead. Then they take the profit for themselves. Executives are paid an executive salary, just like at any other company. The “freedom to make your own decisions” that Ted Cruz describes is the freedom to decide between who will screw you over the least given your current health situation. We are gambling with our bodies. It’s inhumane. There are reasons no other major country on earth operates this way.
I believe there are issues with Obamacare. Like Bernie Sanders, I deeply believe in single payer healthcare, but I view Obamacare as a step in the right direction. I understand 6 million people lost their current health plan when the ACA was rolled out, but 22 million more Americans received insurance. Medicaid was expanded, and regulations were put in place to ensure insurance companies were covering important things. Most importantly, Obamacare has gotten us more used to the idea that we all deserve healthcare. We all deserve to wake up and not worry about getting sick, and not just because of what it will do to our bodies, but what it will do to our wallets. It should be a human right.
Top photo: CNN
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Dallas Athent is the author of Lesser Journeys, a novel which follows a woman with a chronic illness as she navigates relationships in business, which will be in stores in December 2020. She lives in London.