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Is Medicare For All Our Only Hope? Ask American NHS Patients.

Thumbnail by Michael Berdyugin via Unsplash.

Conversations surrounding single-payer healthcare are becoming far more dire as we progress. We’re seeing increasing disparities in care for people of color, women, immigrants, and the LGBTQIA+ community. We’re finding that an ambulance ride can send people into debt. We’re learning that our current private healthcare system is just not working in the way we need it to.

Regardless of party lines, many might find that astronomical medical costs are unacceptable.  Just to gauge the problem, here are some average medical costs for just a few procedures:

  • Annual physical: $199
  • Birth, prenatal, delivery-related, and post-natal care: $8,802
  • MRI scan: $2,611

While these are just a few averages, there’s a vast range of what people might actually pay for care. Medical centers in the U.S. can charge whatever they want. And they usually don’t have to justify or disclose prices.

Under the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS,) almost everyone pays the low out-of-pocket price of £0 for the exact care mentioned above. In fact, the government’s single-payer system covers just about everything.

While free sounds nice, money has to come from somewhere in order to fund a vast healthcare system. If medical fees aren’t paid out of pocket, they’re going to end up in our tax bill, right? And taxation is theft, yeah? Let’s unpack that idea.

Britain’s tax system asks for national insurance contributions of 12% from each taxpayer. That percentage is regardless of your income tax bracket.

In the United States, on average, the bottom 40% of income earners spent more than 12% of their income on healthcare costs alone. The lowest 10% of earners spent 35% of their income on healthcare costs.

Is the U.S. system looking unbalanced and unfair yet?

But employers pay for loads of Americans’ healthcare too. Aren’t those employers stuck with the burden of healthcare costs? Why don’t we try Medicare for All who Want It?

That’s a noble idea. There’s just one little issue: during COVID-19 millions of high-risk Americans have been laid off. They have lost their employer-based insurance. We’ve learned our lesson about the downfall of opt-in Medicare in this occurrence alone.

Here’s the bottom line: in 2020, the U.S. is a country riddled with police brutality and a pandemic. Our broken healthcare system is targeting essential workers, people of color, women and the LGBTQIA+ community. Our government is destroying our health and bankrupting us in the process.

If you’re still not convinced by the lack of Medicare for All’s true fiscal burden, would the perceived financial cost be worth the benefit of dignity and respect for patients in the U.S.?

Mia Davies—a student in Edinburgh who has experienced healthcare systems in the U.S., China, and the UK—relays a simple U.S. ambulance call that was riddled with fees:

“Disabled people and chronically ill people have so many bracelets saying ‘in case of emergency, do not call an ambulance, call an Uber’ because ambulances are so expensive. I was at a friend’s house and I had a seizure. They called an ambulance. And I don’t blame them for calling an ambulance because they didn’t know any better and they cared about my health. And it took a year of battling and dealing with bills that they charged that didn’t even need to be paid.”

Is this truly how we want to treat our people?

I’ve gathered stories from Americans — including myself — who have found justice through a single-payer system. As a rule, we appreciate the genuine care for our wellbeing and health that we receive from the NHS.

Image by Ben Hope via Unsplash. Blue and yellow mural in front of a bar that says “Thank you NHS. Stay Home. Save Lives.” Phone booth ad next to it saying “NHS staff, thank you for keeping Britain ticking!”

Personally, I’ve had a fair share of minor illnesses I’ve had to bring to a GP (general practitioner) in the UK. My first year of university — and the first time I had to visit a doctor in the UK — I came down with a rough case of the infamous freshers’ flu.

Desperate for immediate care, I made an appointment the only way I knew how: through a private doctor.

At an NHS follow up visit, my doctor berated me a bit. He reassured me that I should never pay for healthcare. If I called for a same-day appointment, he’d get me in right away.

In no dimension did I ever imagine I’d hear a doctor utter those words.

For the first time, I received proper care with no bill, no paperwork, and no wait. American stigma against socialized healthcare taught me that I’d be waiting for weeks to receive basic treatment, but this was far from the case. This was a strange but ideal system that I just couldn’t have imagined.

I’m not alone in that thought.

Mia Davies recalls a feeling of strangeness through her experience with the NHS.

“As someone whose primary form of healthcare requires a lot of really expensive scans, as someone who needs semi-regular MRIs, regular blood tests, overnight hospital stays, and ambulance-related things—all of which are needlessly expensive—it’s never not going to be weird to me to not have the bill man walk up to you and be like ‘hello, here’s this form that you have to sign that signs away your entire life.’”

Yet, no bill. No paperwork.

As an American who has lived in Singapore, Belgium, and Scotland, Kirsten Rousseau gives us a look at the lengths NHS workers take to diagnose and treat patients.

“I knew someone that had a major health scare and doctors were struggling to identify what was wrong with her. She spent a couple months in the hospital undergoing a few surgeries. They finally identified the issue, and the entire time she never paid a single cent. In the US, that would have bankrupted her. How is that just? The UK’s system isn’t perfect and has its issues. But better an imperfect, just system than an imperfect, unjust system.”

No bill.

To note the sheer convenience of the NHS is not to say that the NHS isn’t dangerously underfunded, or that it doesn’t come issue-free. The lack of funding in the NHS can definitely pose a threat to adequate healthcare. Eleanor Crawford, a student in Scotland, states, “As much as I love not paying for appointments and prescriptions, recent austerity measures and budget cuts have made it really hard to get proper healthcare with a chronic illness.”

The NHS has found difficulty with funding. That’s no secret. Is that another reason to place even more respect and money into a system like the NHS, so that it can maintain a certain level of funding and care?

Is the NHS placing enough importance on visits for chronic illnesses? Mental health?

Since we’re practically starting from the bottom in the US, how can we fix these issues?

While our needs and discoveries about the NHS might vary, Americans share a sense of surprise and strangeness while witnessing the nuances of single-payer treatment.

The NHS is not a perfect system. But is it any better than the mess we have in the US? Let us know!

  • Is Medicare For All Our Only Hope?

    • Yes. We need to break the healthcare system down and built a new one.
    • Medicare for all who want it.
    • Nope. Let’s keep our healthcare in the hands of private companies.


Written by Marina Martinez

Arizonan student at the University of Edinburgh, dog lover, desert rat, meme aficionado and coffee enthusiast.

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