The True Cost of Healthcare in the US

Courtesy of

Christie Dix, Managing Editor

The insurance market is like a game, and everyone loses. There are many Americans who must choose between insulin and food. Many who need mental healthcare laugh when someone asks them whether they could afford therapy. Health is seen as a commodity, not a right. It is something you can gain by capitalist venture.

My story is one of many that exposes the radical inequity those in poverty face when seeking a healthy life. The cycle keeping the American people poor and the cycle keeping them sick are interconnected. Factors such as lack of healthy food resources, lack of access to education and an unrealistically low minimum wage create a larger social problem that is literally causing the early death of millions of Americans.

The numbers are in. A 2016 study shows that the richest 1 percent of women live a decade longer than the poorest 1 percent of Americans. The amount of money in your pocket directly correlates statistically to how long you will remain on this Earth.

With a minimum wage well below what it should be after adjusting for inflation, many people cannot break out of the cycle of bad health and poverty.

Low income means living in an area with less access to affordable healthy food and unhealthy living conditions. Even those who truly desire to work hard to improve their lives through education struggle to do so. They must work 60-80 hour weeks to make enough for food and shelter for their families, not to mention the uncapped margin of profit that the universities are making throughout the country.

Plus, it is very hard to focus on school when you have no food. Have you ever spent a busy school day without a good meal? Imagine that this happens to someone every day.

On top of that, Burger King or McDonald’s is oftentimes the cheapest option for a full meal. According to an article in a British Medical Journal, eating unhealthy food will save you $550 per year. This leaves the population with medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Now the sick, hungry and uneducated populace must also worry about how to find a way to purchase the life-saving drugs they need in a world where insulin for a month will cost them at least $600 at retail price in America. Ironically, the patent for insulin was sold for $1 by the scientists who created it, because they saw it as a life-saving drug that should be accessible to all. 

I was recently searching for a new insurance plan because I make too much money now to receive assistance, even though I completely support myself with a full time school schedule in expensive New Jersey. The catastrophe plans I encountered were appalling. $200 a month for a plan that only covers 20 percent of a primary care doctor visit, after you reach a deductible of $7,000 was presented to me as a possibility. As a woman on a few necessary medications, this was simply not an option.

The first plan I encountered with a “regular” deductible of $2,000 that covered primary care visits with a $50 copay was priced at $400 a month. 

As I contemplated how I could take on this new bill, I seriously considered dropping out of school, taking on exotic dancing or having my parents reach into their dwindling retirement fund. By the way, my parents also cannot afford insurance of their own. It all seemed very hopeless to me.

I called the specialty pharmacy to ask what my medication would cost without insurance. A 30 day supply would cost me over $3,000.

Luckily, a friend told me to call the Marketplace hotline to see if something was wrong. When I called, I asked why my bill was so high when I was a single woman going to school with no assistance. This is when I was informed that the reason I was being charged so much was because my reported income would not earn me a tax credit that could be applied to the premium.

I paused to take in this information. “Are you telling me I don’t make enough money to get help paying for my insurance,” I asked.

The operator said an uncomfortable yes, and let me know the amount I would have to make to get a tax credit.

Since I am a bartender, I never quite know what I will make, but I had reported just shy of what I would need to make to receive a tax credit. A small change to the application and I received the credit toward my premium.

There is a catch. If a person does not quite make what they report and they do not get a tax credit, they may owe all that money at the end of the year.

America has many citizens living in this cycle. They do not make enough for tax credits on their premiums, or to live decent lives, but they make too much for government assistance. This is happening all over the country. People are dying because they cannot afford the bill for a doctor’s office.

In 2017, the story of a young man’s struggle saddened the nation.

As the BBC reports, “The most famous case, perhaps, was 26-year-old Alec Smith, who died in 2017 less than a month after he aged out of his mother’s health insurance plan. Despite working full-time making more than minimum wage, he could not afford to buy new insurance or pay the $1,000 a month for insulin without it.”

Insurance only insures that the average American will suffer hardships to afford medications and services that are free in other countries. The plans that are being offered for purchase are not even worth having. A three day hospital visit averages to about $30,000 in America. A 20 percent coinsurance with a $7,000 deductible means you are paying $25,400 out of pocket. It is definitely unrealistic to expect someone working 40 hours a week at the national minimum wage to afford this, saying that they make a grand total of 15,080 a year, before taxes.

These are things many Americans know, but these factors all combine in a way that displays a bleak future for the American people, if the system continues to be accepted as “just the way it is.”