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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

Pope Francis is right: It’s time for universal health care in America

In July, Pope Francis implored the world to adopt universal health care, extolling its importance after undergoing intestinal surgery. Speaking from the hospital balcony, Pope Francis reflected on the quality health care he received, declaring that “A health service that is free and guarantees good service accessible to all ... should not be lost. It must be maintained and everyone should be committed to this. Because everyone needs it.”

For virtually all of the industrialized world, universal health care is a reality, where one does not have to choose between paying for groceries or purchasing their medicine. Sadly, the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee health care for all its citizens, a decision that is not only morally reprehensible but economically costly. There has never been a better time for the United States to guarantee health care as a human right and join the other industrialized nations across the globe in providing affordable health care to all its citizens.

Although the United States is the richest country on Earth, many Americans are forced to take on overwhelming amounts of debt if they get hospitalized. In a 2019 study, one in four cancer patients reportedly struggled to pay for their medical care and another recent study found that Americans owe more than $140 billion in medical debt. We have to ask ourselves as a nation whether or not we will tolerate a system where some people are forced into poverty because they are diagnosed with a serious illness. By guaranteeing affordable health care to all citizens, we can create a country where the only thing the sick have to worry about is getting better.

In a world full of injustice and evil, Catholic Social Teaching reminds us of how to treat one another with respect, fight oppression and promote the common good. In particular, it calls us to value and protect the life and dignity of every human person because of our shared experience of being made in the image of God. With over 25 million Americans uninsured — meaning they are at risk of incurring medical debt if they become seriously ill — is it safe to say that we are not living in a society where every life is valued? Ask yourself: Is having to ration medicine because you can’t afford it an example of living in dignity? Is refusing to call an ambulance during a medical emergency because you can’t afford it living in dignity? And is skipping a doctor’s appointment because the cost is too high something someone would do while living in dignity? Tragically, these are all tough decisions many Americans have to make every day to avoid going into debt. In the United States, the lack of affordable health care is one of the moral crises of our time, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, and one that should cause outrage to anyone who believes that human life is sacred and must be respected.

Many criticize proposals to implement universal health care in America by raising concerns about the cost, but they fail to realize that maintaining the current system is even more costly. Even though the United States does not guarantee health care to all its citizens, we still end up spending more money on health care than all other countries. Annually, the United States spends around $10,000 per person on health care, while other developed countries like Canada and the United Kingdom spend under $5,000 per person. One of the central reasons why our health care system is so expensive and inefficient is because of the outrageous prices of procedures, tests, prescriptions and the growing administrative costs.

A universal health care proposal like Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All plan curtails the ballooning costs of health care because it centralizes it, eliminating most administrative costs and allowing the government to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs and other procedures and tests. Medicare for All is a single-payer health care program where all residents receive Medicare from the federal government. Individuals can obtain health services from any provider, and Medicare coverage would be expanded to cover dental, hearing, vision and prescription drugs. Last year, a group of researchers at three University of California campuses analyzed 22 studies on the projected cost of single-payer health insurance in the United States, concluding that all studies — regardless of ideological orientation — found that such a program would yield net savings over several years. Specifically, a recent study from Yale found that Medicare for All would save $450 billion annually, providing encouraging evidence that universal health care is economical as well as moral.

Because a universal health care system will not only save money but allow more Americans to live with dignity, the United States must make the transition and join other industrialized nations in guaranteeing health care. Notre Dame is uniquely positioned as a leader in Catholic higher education to promote a policy that aligns strongly with Catholic Social Teaching, so we should listen to and act on Pope Francis’ call for universal health care. By using our voices to advocate for universal health care, we can live up to Father Sorin’s dream of Notre Dame being a powerful force for good.

Jacob Sherer is a sophomore majoring in political science with a minor in philosophy, politics and economics. Originally from Wisconsin, Jacob lives in Duncan Hall on campus. He currently serves as the director of operations for BridgeND. Feel free to contact him by email at with any questions, comments or general inquiries.

BridgeND is a student-led discussion club that is committed to bridging polarization in politics and educating on how to engage in respectful and productive discourse. BridgeND welcomes students of all backgrounds, viewpoints and experiences who want to strengthen their knowledge of current issues or educate others on an issue that is important to them. The club meets weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in the McNeill Room of LaFortune. Want to learn more? Contact or @bridge_ND on Twitter and Instagram.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.