2020 will be remembered as a year of tragedy. 300,000 have died in a few short months.Several of the deadliest days in American history have come within a single week. Driving up the death toll, political ideology has led people to distrust science and reject common sense.They refuse to self-isolate, social distance, or wear masks. Politics has weaponized these minor inconveniences. Wearing a mask, a small but potentially lifesaving action, has become, for some citizens, an insurmountable infringement on personal freedoms. Politics has turned American lives into expendable pieces in an ideological game.
This is not the first time politics has infected healthcare. In the past 50 years, there have been over 30,000 healthcare bills proposed in Congress, but gridlock has stalled reform. Even though America is the richest country in the world, 30 million Americans are still uninsured. 80million skip out on taking medication due to cost. And 180 million struggle to afford essential medical payments (Sainato). The politicization of healthcare is deadly, but as George Orwell articulated, “in our age, there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, [and] hatred...”.
For decades, the debate around healthcare has collected a web of political poison based on empty populist appeals and misrepresentation of facts. Politicians rally their followers by making wild claims that their constituents want to hear. For example, to appeal to the voter base who lived through the Cold War and the era of McCarthyism, politicians label Medicare for All as “socialism”, equating it with evil and failure. That word alone is enough to scare millions from even considering the merits of the policy.
Politicians launch similarly disingenuous attacks on Medicare for All’s financing. For those who are not frightened by the mere mention of socialism, politicians terrify them with the word “taxes”. One of President Trump’s favorite threats on the campaign trail was “Democrats are going to raise your taxes”. Estimates show that Medicare for All will cost roughly $3.4trillion annually, in comparison to the $1.2 trillion the federal government spends now (Qiu). Even though the government will undoubtedly spend more money, Americans will save more when they no longer have to pay for skyrocketing medical costs (which is essentially a tax cut that boosts economic growth). For the politicians, that is simply too expensive. They never hesitate to spend trillions to save the “too big to fail”corporations, to spend trillions fighting pointless wars in the Middle East, or to give tax breaks to billionaires. But when people are dying because of the lack of healthcare, politicians would suddenly rather save money than save lives.
A comparable feat of baseless politics plagued ObamaCare. After President Obama’s election in 2008, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proudly declared that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” —not creating American jobs, not advancing foreign policy, and most certainly not improving the healthcare system. Republicans then did everything in their power to block ObamaCare from being passed. They went on Fox News to spread misinformation about ObamaCare being a government takeover. These political plays misled the American public with millions believing,incorrectly, that the law could form “death panels” to determine whether or not seniors would be able to live. Partisanship drove this divide as 90% of Democrats supported Obamacare while81% of Republicans opposed it (Rovner).
And even though partisan politics is a part of every democracy, the effects plague America more. Even deeply divided nations like the UK and relatively poor countries like India have national systems that guarantee healthcare for all of their citizens. Before the healthcare system was implemented in the UK, there was opposition from the conservative wing of Parliament, albeit weaker than the opposition in the US (then-Representative Mike Pence proclaimed that “there will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare”). But after the policy was administered, Brits from all over the political spectrum found it to be an indispensable aspect of their lives. They realized that it meant being able to go to the doctor without worrying about payment and that it meant being able to pick up medication without taking out cash or a credit card (Frayer). While no policy is perfect and healthcare reform will not be able to give every American healthcare overnight, the populist rhetoric politicians utilize, especially in America, is curbing the progress of reform and killing thousands of Americans annually.
But politics are especially potent in American for a reason. Republicans and Democrats are often backed by special interests. Because Citizens United v. FEC prohibits the restriction of political spending by corporations, campaign contributions are at all-time highs. Since money is power, Americans aren’t the ones who elect their politicians: the deep-pocketed corporations are pulling the strings behind the scenes. These very corporations profit from the broken healthcare system. Insurance companies are making higher profits. Pharmaceutical companies are profiting at absurd levels from drugs. But because politicians rely on a constant stream of contributions from greedy corporations, they oppose policies that would hurt these corporations.
Healthcare has been tokenized as a political tool rather than as a policy that can change people's lives. After Obama fought hard to expand coverage to millions of people through the Affordable Care Act, Trump won with a presidential campaign that vowed to repeal 8 years of invaluable progress with no replacement plan. After Sanders strived to bring healthcare to every American, he was only met with cries against “socialism” and of the destruction of “American values”. As George Orwell expressed, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”. Attempts to fix the broken healthcare system have been in vain because of this politicization of healthcare. Ironically, the congressmen who refuse to give the ordinary American access to quality care get their healthcare subsidized by the government and the ordinary American taxpayer.
When common sense and science overcome political tactics and ideological fear-mongering, we might be able to find the vaccine to the disease that has poisoned the American healthcare system and society.