Healthcare, strictly speaking, is not a local election topic, because there isn’t very much that councillors can do to directly affect this. However, running in an election and/or being a councillor gives you a platform to advocate for change even on the national level, and I think that there are few things more important than healthcare.
I met a person recently while canvassing, and while they shall remain nameless, they agreed for me to share the broad details of their story.
This person is chronically ill and unable to work. However, their partner earns just enough money to disqualify them from a medical card. Because this person frequently requires hospital care and their medication is very expensive and their mortgage is a major cost (although their home was very modest), they had difficulty meeting their expenses. To my horror, this person confessed to me that they often did not take their prescribed medication in order to save money and showed me a letter from the hospital threatening to transfer their unpaid bills to a debt collection agency.
I’ve heard similar stories from others who live in fear of losing their medical card due to the cost of medication. I’ve seen people’s bills and I’ve seen their payslips and I tell you: those people cannot afford their prescriptions. You would have to be extremely well-off to do so and be earning far above the average wage.
But most people don’t earn more than the average wage.
That’s why it’s average.
A hospital transferring unpaid bills to a debt collection agency sounds like something from a Dickens novel.
And I know that people in general don’t want this. I know people want universal healthcare, because when I asked, 95% of you said that’s what you support. I know we’re paying enough tax to have it.
And I know that many families are trapped in a situation where they do not have any other options. You can’t tell people to be responsible – illness doesn’t depend all that much on that. It’s a matter of luck, and you never know when it will strike you. You can’t tell people to downsize – with such high house prices, there is nowhere for them to downsize to. You can’t shop around for cheaper medication – it’s controlled by cartels.
Being ill is bad enough. It’s hard to adjust to a situation where your life isn’t going to be what you thought it was and it is hard for your family to adjust, too. To on top of that have to deal with worries about paying for healthcare, and to put people in a situation where they have to make decisions about the quality of treatment they receive is inhumane.
To me the principle of equality means that when it comes to healthcare everyone gets the same treatment.
I’m not trying to convince anyone that universal, tax-funded healthcare is a good idea – because I know that the overwhelming majority of you already agree with me. I’m writing this to highlight the plight of the people living in this situation through no fault of their own and to let you know that I am committed to a different way and that a different way is possible.
Let me share an alternative story, a vision if you will of what things could be:
I was born in Canada, but because I’ve been away from Canada for so long and haven’t been paying taxes there, I’m no longer automatically covered for medical expenses when I visit. A few years ago, I had to see a GP while I was in Canada. Although they agreed to see me right away, it took them quite a long time to figure out how to charge me the $22 they were legally obliged to (for non-resident, non-taxpayers). Everyone was quite embarrassed by the situation and the GP’s secretary apologized to me several times for taking my money. That’s because we share a value: a value that money should not determine healthcare, even in the strange situation where you’ve just slipped through the cracks (indeed, if I remember correctly, I had to reassure them several times that I would recoup the money from my travel insurance, just so everyone felt that it was more of a technicality than an actual payment).
When Canadians vote for ‘Greatest Canadian’, Tommy Douglas, the politician who never became Prime Minister but who championed the idea of universal healthcare until we got it, is consistently tops.
The exchange of money at a medical facility is just wrong and everyone knows it’s wrong, because the person seeking help is in a powerless situation. When you take their money, you are taking advantage of that.
So I’d like everyone to just imagine that that is how things were here: that when the doctor says, ‘that will be 60 EUR’, the waiting room gasps in disapproval.
Because that’s what life is like in some places.
And there’s nothing magic about Canada or any of the other numerous countries with universal healthcare. They aren’t perfect places – they are just places that are somewhat less corrupt and where people haven’t been placed in a horrible double-bind between healthcare and debt. They’re places where doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers have been traditionally paid quite well – through our taxes – but not exorbitantly well, and where government regulation of major goods like housing means they can afford to live decently on their salaries, meaning they stick around and keep working
I’m also writing this to let you know that while healthcare may be more of a national topic, it does affect different parts of the country differently – in Fingal we have very high house prices, because we are close to Dublin (meaning we are strapped for cash even when earning enough to disqualify for a medical card), and we do not have enough GPs and health clinics for a growing population. It is not hard to predict the healthcare needs of a population – as long as you know numbers, age, gender, etc. you can get a pretty good estimate of how many heart attacks, strokes, accidents, etc. are going to happen in any given year. It may not be exact, but it is enough to build infrastructure on.
Thus, I am reaffirming three core aims:
- To fight for universal, tax-funded healthcare on a national level so no one is left in the Dickensian situation I have described above
- To make healthcare provision more efficient (among other things by reducing load in hospitals when hospital presence is not necessary for treatment)
- To ensure that Fingal gets sufficient healthcare infrastructure now