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Gibson writes: "The real healthcare debate in this country shouldn't be focused on insurance, but on the fundamental causes of the outrageous costs of healthcare and why even basic health insurance is unaffordable for millions of Americans."

The real issue is the high cost of health care. (image: Shutterstock)
The real issue is the high cost of health care. (image: Shutterstock)

American Healthcare Debate Misses the Mark

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

04 January 14


he real healthcare debate in this country shouldn’t be focused on insurance, but on the fundamental causes of the outrageous costs of healthcare and why even basic health insurance is unaffordable for millions of Americans.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an improvement over the status quo. Health insurers can no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, young adults can stay insured on their parents’ plans until they’re 26, and some states have chosen to expand Medicaid under the ACA. I recently wrote about my decision to pay 1 percent of my income in penalties rather than buy health insurance through This prompted a direct response from Ezra Klein, editor of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Klein made multiple arguments explaining his view of how important it was to buy private health insurance now, even going so far as to suggest single-payer healthcare would be worse for someone like me in terms of cost (not taking into account that it could be funded through progressive taxation). His main argument was that young healthy people enrolling is part of the same social contract that makes social insurance programs like Social Security work. By everyone paying in from an early age, the program will be there later in life when they need it.

While I agree in principle, Klein’s argument neglected the failure of US companies to participate in the same social contract we do, which has been the prime reason healthcare is so expensive, and even the most basic health insurance policies are still unaffordable for Americans in the lower middle class. And before we even address the insurance argument, we must demand corporations abide by that same social contract, or it becomes meaningless altogether.

In the last 50 years, American healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP tripled from 6 percent in 1960 to 18 percent in 2010. And the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects that healthcare costs will be almost 20 percent of GDP by 2022. This means as Americans, we’re spending more than two and a half times more on healthcare than the OECD average. So what sets America apart from other countries spending far less on healthcare than we do?

One prime cause could be that the United States is the world’s largest grower and consumer of genetically-modified (GM) foods. As of 2010, the United States had 66.8 million hectares of GM crops planted, covering 16.5 percent of our total agricultural area. Because GM foods are made with proteins from organisms that weren’t previously part of the food chain, GM foods have caused allergic reactions in children several years after these foods were made available for public consumption. Additionally, genetically modifying food can result in disease-causing bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, leading to widespread food-borne illnesses.

As Americans eat GM foods and get sick, they rely on drugs made by pharmaceutical companies to get well. The relationship between Monsanto, a chief grower of GM crops, and Pfizer, one of the world’s largest prescription drug manufacturers, is insidious. According to Monsanto’s own website, prior to September 1, 1997, the Monsanto Company owned a pharmaceuticals business that later became known as Pharmacia, which is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pfizer. Both companies are heavily invested in growing food that makes people sick when they eat it, and selling sick people the drugs to treat those health conditions.

More than 20 countries around the world have all taken action to ban the growing or importing of genetically-engineered foods. While citizens in several states have unsuccessfully tried to pass GM labeling ballot initiatives, the GM industry has used its tremendous wealth to drown out pro-labeling advocates with millions of dollars in misleading advertisements. Until the US government addresses the fundamental issue of what GM food does to American consumers, our healthcare costs will continue to rise.

One major reason people like me are choosing not to purchase a health insurance policy is simply because they are still so unaffordable. The cheapest bronze HMO plan, for me, would cost $1800 annually in premiums, plus a deductible between $2000 and $6000. Since I make $30,000 a year in self-employed income (roughly $14 an hour), and pay no alimony or student loans, I don’t qualify for a premium tax credit on But millions of other Americans are in a far worse financial situation than I am.

Even as corporate profits have been skyrocketing, and the Dow Jones and S&P 500 have both hit multiple record highs in 2013, workers’ wages have actually gone down. While the actual unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing, new job growth has been mostly in fast food and retail sectors, which still pay the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour despite their growing profits. If the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity over the last several decades, it would actually be roughly $22 an hour today. If companies like McDonald's, Target, and Walmart paid workers just $15 an hour, those workers would have enough to support their families, their local economies, and purchase health insurance.

If America is ready to have a real healthcare debate, let’s discuss the causes of skyrocketing healthcare costs and why they’re unaffordable for so many. Only then will we have real, meaningful healthcare reform.

Keep up with US Uncut!

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

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