By Horus Alas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made universal health care a cornerstone of his 2016 presidential campaign. His campaign website proclaimed, “It has been the goal of Democrats since Franklin D. Roosevelt to create a universal health care system guaranteeing health care to all people. Every other major industrialized nation has done so.”
According to PolitiFact, Sanders’ often-repeated claim that the United States is the “only major country” that doesn’t guarantee health care as a universal right is only half-true. Per commentary from a Sanders spokesman, the senator’s claim defined “major nations” as those belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Taking that differentia into account, Mexico and the U.S. are the only two OECD member nations to not guarantee universal health coverage. Mexico enacted legislation to that end and currently insures close to 90 percent of its citizens. According to a 2015 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. has a similar figure for total percentage of uninsured citizens.
Europe, on the other hand, recognizes health care as a right, per Sanders’ preferred verbiage. Most European nations abide by the European Social Charter. Its health section enshrines the legal status of health care as a right to all its people.
In 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, The Atlantic noted via graphic that 21 of the European Union’s 28 member nations provided universal health care to its citizens. Countries that provide universal health care are colored green on this map, whereas those that don’t are colored grey.
In that same piece, reporter Max Fisher wrote, “What’s astonishing is how cleanly the green and grey separate the developed nations from the developing, almost categorically. Nearly the entire developed world is colored, from Europe to the Asian powerhouses to South America’s southern cone to the Anglophone states of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The only developed outliers are a few still-troubled Balkan states, the Soviet-style autocracy of Belarus, and the U.S. of A., the richest nation in the world.”
We might give Mexico a pass on its failure—though at the same time, praise for its attempts—at universal health care due to its lesser economic might. As of 2013, Mexico’s GDP per capita stood at $10,307.28. In contrast, the U.S.’ per capita GDP for the same year was $53,041.98.
It remains baffling just how it is that the world’s wealthiest nation can’t seem to provide health care to its citizens across the board. Unless of course, you consider the mentality of our current governing party, the Republicans.
In the post-Reagan era, Republicans have sought to do away with government programs that help the poor, including welfare and Medicaid. In their recent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans framed the issue in terms of ensuring “‘universal access’ to health care and coverage, not necessarily to ensure that everyone actually has insurance.”
Accordingly, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the number of uninsured Americans would increase to 24 million by 2026 under the Republican-drafted American Health Care Act.
Overall, it remains to be seen just what kind of responsibility a society has for its poor. Those with universal health care coverage seem to believe that they owe the less fortunate at least some kind of rudimentary safety net. Those without that same social entitlement are overwhelmingly unable to provide those benefits, or, in the exceptional case of the United States, unwilling to.
At a talk in 1963, Ayn Rand denounced the Kennedy administration for its purported aims to “ make people accept the collectivist-altruist principle of self-immolation under the guise of mere kindness, generosity or charity. It is done by hammering into people’s minds the idea that need supersedes all rights — that the need of some men is a first mortgage on the lives of others — and that everything should be sacrificed to the undefined, undefinable grab bag known as ‘the public interest.’”
The Republican party as we know it today has adopted Rand’s thinking on social welfare wholeheartedly. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, chief architect of the recently-shelved AHCA, has unabashedly demonstrated how Rand has influenced his efforts to shape policy.
Our current failures in Washington to establish a plan for universal health care might well be regarded as the triumph of Randist, individualistic capitalism over basic regard for the welfare and survival of our most vulnerable citizens.
In one of the oldest and most influential works on politics in the western world, Plato’s Republic¸ Socrates notes how “the object on which we fixed our eyes in the establishment of our state was not the exceptional happiness of any one class but the greatest possible happiness of the city as a whole.” (Republic 420b, Trans. Paul Shorey)
Again, the United States must define itself. We must determine whether we want to be a society where the wealthy lead lives of excess and exorbitance while the poor literally die because the state views them as parasites, or whether we want to guarantee everyone at least the opportunity to lead a prosperous life.
Health care is but one example thereof, and yet it seems clear where we stand for now.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michael Vadon’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.