The real costs & benefits of Medicare for All
As an American voter who also enjoys the benefits of Canadian citizenship and healthcare, I’ve been frustrated by the narrow, wrong-headed conversation about paying for universal Medicare for All.
Let’s talk about what “Medicare for all” for all really means. My own experience with Canadian universal healthcare has made it very clear that much of the Democratic debate over healthcare funding is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how to calculate its costs and benefits.
Yes, there’s lots of evidence that Medicare for All will actually SAVE money given all the waste in the current system. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I see the real cost of American healthcare every single day, online, in Facebook threads and Twitter conversations: My U.S. friends and family worry about paying for care, or face agonizing battles with insurance companies. I don’t know a single story like this from my Canadian friends.
Living without those battles or anxieties creates social and economic benefits that are not acknowledged in all the fretting over how Presidential candidates plan to pay for Medicare for All.
As a small business owner, I can tell you that I would not have been able to start my own business if I’d had to worry about paying for my own healthcare, much less that of my employees. I’ve created jobs that would never have existed if I’d had to worry about insurance.
As the parent of an autistic child, I’ve had to navigate complex medical and educational challenges that required me to reorganize my work so that I could be available to support my son’s day-to-day needs. (He’s now homeschooled.)
But I was able to do that because I didn’t need to stay in a job just to ensure I’d have coverage for my son’s needs. I didn’t have to choose between being there to support him on a day-to-day basis, and being able to pay for his medical care. I’ve never had to spend time fighting for coverage of his healthcare, and I’ve never known the stress of wondering whether our insurance would pay for his doctor or therapies. The parenting work is stressful enough without that!
Public healthcare is what’s allowed me to stay in the workforce, while parenting a high-needs kid. I’m bringing money into the Canadian economy from other countries — because reliable healthcare lets me keep working! I have little doubt that our access to care also affects my son’s long-term prospects. Because we didn’t have to choose between paying for his care and being home to support his needs, he’s more likely to end up as a working member of society, rather than on disability.
These are the kinds of economic outcomes that you can’t capture in the kind of healthcare balance sheets Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are constantly asked to provide. The payoffs from universal healthcare are so much larger than the narrow savings in actual healthcare costs. The real economic benefit of Medicare for All lies in allowing people to live their full lives, and pursue educational or work opportunities, without worrying they’ll have to sacrifice health coverage; to spend time on work or growth instead of fighting with their insurers.
I hate to even put these benefits in economic terms: It feels wrong, just as it feels wrong that individual Americans are constantly asked to put a price on their own personal health, or the health of their children. I feel so lucky that I haven’t had to do that.
Ironically, it’s my access to Canadian healthcare that makes it possible for me to enjoy my most fundamental rights as an American — to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.