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How much would it cost the US government to provide free universal healthcare?

Dan Gilchrist

I think the best comparator is Australia. Similar demographics (we’re just as fat!), similar constitutional structure (independent states, with a Federal government of limited power).

The money spent in Australia is around $4,700 per person per year. The money spent in the US is about $9,800. In other words, you could essentially replace health insurance premiums with taxes of about half as much. That would save each American an average of five grand a year.

How much does it cost? Less than zero. Go buy yourself something nice.

Note that the Australian expenditure covers everyone. If I need open heart surgery, it costs me nothing. If I need cancer treatment, it costs me nothing. I kid you not, I was talking to a homeless guy last month about his recent hip replacement.

In the US, this… is not the case.

Not to say the Australian system is perfect, but one perk of universal healthcare is that if one person is not covered for a thing, no-one is. We’re all on the same insurance. That puts a lot of pressure on the powers that be to make sure the system works at least reasonably well.

And the outcomes prove that: despite costing less than half the US version, Australia’s health system outcomes are better than the US by a significant margin. Take the maternal mortality ratio – a good indicator of healthcare effectiveness since it covers prenatal care, hospital care, and post-birth follow up. It’s at 28 deaths per 100,00 births in the US. In Australia it’s 6. Just think about that figure for a moment. 4 million births in the US means 1120 new mothers die every year. That’s 3 a day. If the US could replicate the Australian system – and I can’t see why it couldn’t be done – then that figure would go down to 240. That’s 880 families every year who won’t have to suffer that most terrible loss at what should be a wonderful time.

The only people who benefit from the current US system, by comparison to the Australian model, are the very rich. They get dividends from the private companies running all of this – that’s where a lot of that extra money goes, of course. And they do get a higher standard of care than the average Australian. But doesn’t that justify so much of the world’s negative opinion of the US? The rich are almost literally eating the poor. You are seeing 880 new mothers a year die just to benefit the already-wealthy. You are seeing America’s entrepreneurial spirit ground down by people’s fear of being without cover, or by medical bankruptcy. People hold on to jobs they hate, people fail to compete with entrenched businesses, all from fear. And doesn’t that all just reinforce subservience to the wealthy?

In Australia I can quit my job and try to make a go of app design or writing or go start a small business, and my kids won’t be left without world class health care. I am free to make my own decisions without that sword of Damocles hanging over us all.

You want freedom? Real freedom? You can’t have that with a knife to your throat.


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