Failing to provide health care to 29.3 million people is “unethical” and “politically wrong, morally wrong,” said former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in an interview with the Guardian.
The U.S. is the only wealthy country without universal coverage — and Ban faults “powerful” interest groups within the pharmaceutical, hospitals, and doctors sector.
“Here, the political interest groups are so, so powerful,” Ban said. “Even president, Congress, senators and representatives of the House, they cannot do much so they are easily influenced by these special interest groups.”
Ban is hardly alone in his disillusionment with the U.S. health care system and is definitely not the first foreign leader to call the United States out. When President Donald Trump attacked Britain’s health system to slam Democrats running on universal health care, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt blasted him back on Twitter, saying no one in his country “wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover.”
It’s a well-known fact that the U.S. is an outlier in the developed world, as we spend more on health care but have worse health outcomes than other countries. Indeed, health spending is projected to rise 5.5 percent, on average, annually from 2017 to 2026 according to the federal health department. And while health spending is expected to make up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy in 2026, the uninsured population is also expected to rise.
“It seems with Trump just undoing Obamacare, people were not happy first of all,” said Ban about the Trump administration’s reforms that, so far, have undermined the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “Ironically, it might have motivated people to think other ways, and influence their senators, and their Congressman to think the other way.”
Ban’s observations hold. A recent poll finds a majority of the public favors single-payer, meaning they’d want to replace the current private-public insurance patchwork system with a single government plan. Support for single payer or Medicare for All became especially pronounced after Republicans tried to repeal and replace the ACA, jeopardizing quality insurance particularly for those with pre-existing conditions.
Since Medicare for All garnered critical support from likely 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, health care industry groups launched a lobbying group against single-payer plans. The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future is comprised of major players including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the American Medical Association, and the Federation of American Hospitals.
Ban hopes California and New York will ultimately pass single-payer bills currently stalled in each state’s legislature, sparking a national wake-up call.
“It will be either California or New York who will introduce this system,” he told the Guardian. “Then I think there will be many more states who will try to follow suit. I think that’s an encouraging phenomenon we see.”
Ban made his comments as a member of The Elders, a peace and human rights organization launched by Nelson Mandela to promote ideas like universal health care. His interview with the Guardian isn’t the first time he’s criticized Trump for undermining coverage and urging states like California to embrace single payer. He recently spoke at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where he also said, “the good news is that at a state level things appear to be changing for the better.”