By Avalon Kelly
An estimated 30 million Americans (almost 10% of the nation’s population) do not have health insurance. America’s lack of fair health coverage has brought a horrific pattern of health disparities between economic and social groups: the unaffordability of medical services such as regular health screenings, emergency tests, and recommended treatments means that nearly one in five Americans simply cannot afford necessary medical services (which must be paid out-of-pocket for those without health insurance). The basic truth is this: the American healthcare system is broken, and increasing economic accessibility of health services could be a step in the right direction to protect the universal right to fair and equitable medical treatment.
More often than not, lack of access to equitable healthcare negatively impacts those in impoverished and low-income communities. Because American health insurance is provided by one’s employer, many low-income citizens have few options for health insurance. Medicaid provides health insurance for households within 138% of the federal poverty line (in California, this is a yearly income of $29,207). Many low-income families whose jobs do not provide health insurance do not meet this income requirement, yet cannot afford to buy insurance. Thus, national economic disparities present an obstacle to access equitable healthcare—families without health insurance lack access to essential services because they cannot pay. In the 2016 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey, 33% of American adults responded that they “went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of cost.” This percentage was much greater than found in any of the other 10 countries surveyed and was over four times higher than reported in the UK (7%) and Netherlands (8%).
Racial minorities also overwhelmingly experience the effects of inequitable healthcare. Undocumented immigrants are banned from enrollment in public insurance, leaving extremely limited options, such as private insurance or locally funded programs (which are especially difficult to obtain with limited resources). Furthermore, even documented immigrants must meet the “five-year bar,” a five year waiting period before legal eligibility to public medical insurance. Such measures against immigrant access to economic assistance increase the disparities seen between the health of the white population and the minority populations. To continue, the underrepresentation of minority peoples in high-paying jobs which supply medical coverage also contributes to limited access to healthcare for racial minorities. On average, black American and Latinx workers earn a lower salary than their white and Asian counterparts. High-paying jobs more often come with benefits including health coverage; therefore, the national system of private health coverage continues to disproportionately benefit upper-class white citizens.
These obvious inequalities present the question of whether humans have the natural right to equitable healthcare. No one’s life is worth more than another person’s: no matter economic standing or ethnicity, all people should have access to the resources they need in order to live a healthy life. Why do our current systems and laws not uphold that truth? To fight the unjust effects of our country’s current system of private health insurance, we can start by changing income requirements for public programs in order to more accurately reflect the needs of America’s underprivileged populations. The current income requirement does not match the realistic salary of the low-income community; therefore Medicaid should have a larger income requirement than within 138% of the poverty line. Furthermore, we must collect data on healthcare marginalization so we can better understand not only the possible solutions to insurance coverage, but also to equal treatment, accessibility, and resources as a whole.