What’s the real reason people oppose universal healthcare? The fear of helping “losers”

50th anniversary of the march on WashingtonIn honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this week, Dan Munro wrote a wonderful column on Forbes about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s views on healthcare. Munro reminds us that King saw healthcare as a civil right.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” Martin Luther King, Jr. – Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights – Chicago, March 25, 1966

Munro nails the reason Americans find it so hard to support universal healthcare: fear. He eloquently explains the three drivers behind this reaction. The first is the wrong idea that universal coverage = government-run healthcare. Check out healthcare in Germany for an example of a multi-payer system that provides universal care. The second reason is American exceptionalism, in other words, “No one can teach us anything.”

It’s the third reason that is driving the talk of charging women more for healthcare and the refusal to expand Medicaid in too many states. There is a real meanness in the conversation about who should have healthcare, an implication that people who need help somehow don’t deserve it, or that they are taking advantage of “the rest of us.” Munro links this sentiment to the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (which is easier to do in Europe than America):

3) …the myth that literally anyone – through hard work and determination – can rise out of any poverty and become rich and prosperous. We salute, praise and deify everyone who does. But there’s a dark side to this myth. Anyone who doesn’t isn’t working hard enough – or doesn’t have enough determination. In effect, they’re a loser – and nobody wants to pay for the healthcare of those losers.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether these “losers” are old people or little kids or bankrupt people or people who’ve lost their job or people who have serious health problems through no fault of their own. People who are afraid of helping “losers” talk about impeachment or defunding the government or killing Obamacare root and branch. Instead of figuring out Obamacare, they stall and hope that a Supreme Court decision or an election or Mitch McConnell will stop progress and let them keep worrying about helping losers.

It’s ironic that Munro also quoted a white businessman in his column who went farther than King in advocating for universal healthcare:

“I think the biggest problem with healthcare today is not its cost – which is a big problem – but for all that money – it’s not an expression of our humanity.” Jonathan Bush, CEO of athenahealth

He’s right. Healthcare is a civil right and we should focus on making it available to everyone as a point of American pride. We should want to provide care to everyone instead of being afraid of the small percentage people who might cheat the system. We need to flip the conversation so that we are focusing about helping people who need it, instead of seeing people who honestly need help as losers.
[Photo by flickr user Ted Eytan]

Veronica Combs

I was the editor in chief at I started writing and editing in the print world and joined a dotcom right before the 2000 crash. I was at TechRepublic/CNET/BNET for 7 years. Health was more interesting to me than the latest version of Windows, so I left for a startup tracking prescription drug news. A year later, MedTrackAlert was acquired by HealthCentral, so I shifted to audience research. The fun of daily news and interviewing smart people brought me to MedCity News in February 2012. More posts by Author