Months before the 2020 election, public outcries to vote for healthcare ran rampant across social media outlets. Here’s the catch: we did vote for healthcare but we also didn’t. If you were among those who voted take a minute to ask yourself this: how much did a candidate’s position on healthcare policy weigh into where your pen filled a circle on a ballot? How educated were you on each party’s views on healthcare? How aware were you of the way your vote may have implications on the healthcare of others, specifically, populations who do not hold the same right to vote as you do? If answering these questions sparks some form of a moral dilemma it should, but know that this is likely true for the majority of Americans reading this piece.
“If they win, 23 million Americans will lose their insurance overnight and protections for pre-existing conditions disappear.”
You may be thinking that president-elect Joe Biden was a win for healthcare policy due to his connection to the Affordable Care Act, by diminishing the threat posed to it by the Trump Administration. Even so, our fundamental failing as a nation extends beyond Republican or Democrat, and more so, extends beyond the threat of the overturning of the ACA. Our failing lies within our knowledge and resulting lack of prioritization of health care policy. Health care policy is intrinsically linked to the state of our nation, yet, our perception of its significance is minimal at best.
Despite having the highest healthcare expenditure, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the United States last in comparison to six other industrialized countries on measures of accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare. The countries at the top of this ranking were ones with universal healthcare coverage systems. They were countries that perceived health as a fundamental human right and therefore, prioritized health above anything else.
As illustrated by the 2020 election exit survey data the United States, conversely, cannot be used as an example of a country that prioritizes healthcare policy. Leading to the election, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 26% of all voters were prioritizing health care over any issue. Fast forward to November, where health care policy fell to the bottom of the list and was only most important to 11% of voters. Largely exemplified in this election, regardless of our affiliation, economic well-being trumped basic human rights such as the right to health.
The irony here lies within the ways countries that have universal healthcare systems have seen benefits in their economies. KPMG studies reported that having universal healthcare systems resulted in healthier populations. Healthier populations, in turn, lead to a decrease in time off due to illness, which further increased productivity and stimulated the economy. More so, healthier populations have a longer life expectancy, and increasing the average life expectancy by just one year could potentially increase the country’s GDP per capita by 4 percent.
Racial inequality, the runner-up of the 2020 election, second to the economy, is a priority that cannot be ignored. Like the economy, a vote for health care policy would have been a vote for racial equality. The disparity has been built into the history of the United States healthcare system; the health of Blacks has never been equal to the health of Whites. Through anti-racist health policy, such as a universal healthcare system, we can repaint this picture as accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare would no longer be the result of employment or socioeconomic status.
The intersectionality between our priorities is revealing and suggests the way health is intrinsically linked to population well being and the overall state of our nation. Imagine the benefit if health care policy was put at the top of our ballot.
Which of the five issues mattered most in deciding how you voted for president, and more importantly, why this issue took precedence over the others?
If health care policy in the US had previously been a priority, we would’ve responded to COVID-19 differently. Racial disparities would have been diminished as a result of having equal access to healthcare. A stronger response to COVID-19 would’ve prevented our economy from bordering a recession. Healthcare policy underpins every priority, suggesting its importance. Yet, we fail to recognize the implications of health care policy and continue to undermine its significance. We view saving the ACA – the bare minimum of the work that needs to be done within health care policy – as something that is victorious. So, yes, exhale, the ACA is not going anywhere just yet. In unison, recognize your contribution to this failure and challenge your own perspective of how integral health care policy is for the success of our nation.