Living with Single Payer

By Sheila Moran, SemDems Fundraising Chair

Guaranteed health care from the cradle to the grave; that is the promise of single payer healthcare in the UK.  I did not appreciate the value of that guarantee until I came to the U.S.   It means no worry about paying bills whilst in the hospital, no worrying about finding the right care for a sick family member, no worry about drugs being priced out of reach, no concern whether a doctor accepts my insurance.

Hospitals in the U.K. may not be fancy, but they are accessible to all. (Photo: Ann Marie Meder)

Hospitals in the U.K. may not be fancy, but they are accessible to all. (Photo: Ann Marie Meder)

This system of healthcare is not free; everyone who works pays in. Americans have asked me why I would want to pay for someone else’s healthcare through this kind of system.  The UK is one nation, we face the needs and problems of the nation together.  I may not be out of work, sick, or have a disabled member of my family now, but if it ever happens to me, I know the system is there.  The security and value of that is immeasurable and that is why single payer works for me.

Are UK hospitals the marvel of architecture that is Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando? No way!  Are they equipped like 4-star hotels? No way!  Will I get admitted immediately? Not unless I am critically ill or in an emergency situation. But, I will happily wait my turn for routine admission.  Will I get first-class treatment?  Oh yes!  Will I receive support after discharge? Yes.  Will I remain in my own home as I age by receiving nursing and social support?  Again, yes. What a relief to know that.

The UK’s single payer system is far from perfect.  It has to be constantly reviewed and adapted to meet the needs of the population.  Care for dementia patients is a current challenge, for example.  Perfection in a healthcare system is probably a pipe dream but when people’s lives are at stake, the efforts to reach it must be begun.

American conservatives do not believe healthcare is a right, yet one standard to judge a society is how it cares for its poor, its vulnerable, and its sick. Does our society pass that standard? I think not. At best, I’d grade it a D.  Winston Churchill once said, “America invariably does the right thing after it has exhausted every other alternative”.  Hopefully, we are close to exhausting every other alternative to single payer healthcare.