In the past few days, we have seen President Donald Trump furiously celebrating his first legislative success. His self-congratulation came after the passage of the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The long, arduous process of trying to provide high quality health care to every American citizen has been bitter, partisan and supremely confusing. Having followed the struggle closely since its early days under Hillary Clinton, I am bewildered and frustrated that this country just can’t seem to get to that goal.
How have so many other countries managed to find a way to provide health care coverage to everyone? What is the magic potion that seems to elude us?
If we look at some of the biggest countries that provide universal health care, we can see that they’ve all been working toward that goal for much longer than the U.S. has.
Let’s start with our neighbor, Canada.
If we go back to the early days of Canada, before WWI, most healthcare was provided at home, usually by women. The same was true in the early United States. As hospitals began to appear in the cities, they mostly provided care to the poor. Wealthy people began to pay for doctors in the years after WWI, when medical care became more advanced.
In the decade of the 1920s, small regional hospitals, mostly paid for through religious charities or groups of small towns, appeared on the rural prairies. Doctors worked for little to no money, instead enjoying the support and respect of the communities, who made sure they had enough food and shelter.
But in the 1930s, medicine across the developed world became much more high-tech, with the advent of X Rays and safer surgeries. Naturally, it also became much more expensive. The wealthy were able to buy it, and the poor were given health care for free. But the rising middle class was left out.
That was when Canadian citizens, lead by the Canadian Medical Association, called for a federal health care agency. One doctor, in his request to create that agency, said:
“Now, if there is an evil there must be a remedy, and that remedy, as I see it, must be some form of distribution of cost among the people at large.”
But the depression hit, and neither governments nor individuals had the money for healthcare. While some provinces tried to pass universal health care laws, none were successful until 1947 when the province of Saskatchewan paid for public health insurance. As other provinces passed similar laws, the federal government realized that they had an obligation to assist.
A federal law was passed in 1950 to pay 50 percent of the provincial costs for providing healthcare to everyone in Canada. Updates to that bill were passed in 1966 and 1984. Throughout those years, the underlying belief was that it was in the best interest of the Canadian nation to provide health care to everyone.
Today about 70 percent of healthcare costs are paid for through Canada’s federal Medicare program and other, smaller federal programs. Provinces provide oversight and some funding. The remaining 30 percent is paid for privately by patients, mostly for services that are not covered.
Canada recognized long ago that everyone needs and has a right to medical care. They saw that need 100 years ago, and they have been taking action on it since then.
Why can’t we get there?
We can look at Germany, too. Believe it or not, Germans have benefitted from government funded health care since the 1880s, under the leadership of Otto Von Bismarck. In an effort to prevent the rise of socialism (really), Bismarck wanted to provide social services that were absolutely necessary to the people. He understood, unlike the present American President, that healthcare was a fundamental human right.
Over the years, the Germans have developed a health insurance system that is mostly paid for by each person’s employer. That part is about what we have here, right?
But unlike in the U.S., insurance is not a business.
For centuries the Germans have had a system based on mutual support and coverage. Way back in medieval times, workers’ guilds asked everyone to pay a small amount so that if one member got sick, he could pay for a doctor.
This is the basic set up of health insurance, as we all know. We all pay in, and we pool our funds to pay for our fellow members.
In Germany, insurance has remained a non-profit set up. Everyone pays in, and you get what you need.
No CEOs making tens of millions. No annual profit report to the board. Just a pool of money paid by employers and taxes, used to provide health care for everyone.
Germany keeps improving its system, too. Last year it passed a reform law that included mandatory insurance coverage, a law that all insurers have to cover everyone, and that tax dollars will pay for children’s health care.
I could go on. I could list every one of the countries in this world who provide the basic necessity of universal health care to every citizen. But that might take more time than you have to read.
A few of those countries include Bahrain, Costa Rica, Ireland, South Korea and Cyprus. Every developed country on earth, in fact, except for ours.
I wonder why they could all manage to see that it benefits an entire nation when its citizens are healthy and productive, but we can’t. I wonder how it is that they know that one of the roles of government is to keep the people safe, but we don’t see that.
As the Republican Party and President Trump press on with their immoral attack on the “government takeover” of healthcare, I can only hope that they’ll take the time to talk to their colleagues all over the world. Colleagues who must think this government is a bunch of ignorant jerks.
Senator Sanders agrees with me.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.