As a British nurse, over the last year I have built links with American nurses who are leading the fight to establish Medicare For All in the USA. As we have shared experiences about the profession we love, I have been shocked by the horror stories from my US counterparts. The Americans don't have a healthcare system, they have a rolling healthcare crisis.
Despite spending more money than any other country, millions of people in the US have no access to healthcare. Millions more have inadequate health insurance that could never actually cover their medical bills. One third of all fundraisers on GoFundMe are to pay for medical costs.
Behind each statistic is a human being - with a family, friends and dashed hopes for the future. Take Josiah, a young man in his twenties who had Chromes disease. Having graduated from university, he had a huge student debt to repay. His health insurance plan had very high deductables, meaning that he had to choose between defaulting on his student loan repayment and paying for a screening for his illness. He chose to keep up his student loan repayments and delayed getting a health screening that could have saved his life. At 29, he was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal intestinal cancer and died after his 30th birthday.
As a nurse in the NHS I know there is a very real threat of the “Americanisation” of our health service. Perhaps the most concerning thing about Donald Trump’s recent visit to the UK was his admission that the NHS would be “on the table” in any future trade talks between the UK and US.
This rare moment of accidental honesty sent the Conservative Party into a panic. Leadership hopefuls lined up to declare the NHS “not for sale”. They know that the British public love their healthcare service, and given a straight choice would never countenance its privatisation. Any political party openly standing on a platform of trading away our NHS would be annihilated at an election.
Yet the process is already underway. The ways in which the Tories have been carving up and selling the NHS is well documented. I’m not going to run through them here. But I do have some ideas about how we can stop it.
Multinational corporations and many politicians work together internationally to make a profit from people’s pain. Those of us opposed to this need to work together across borders to defend and expand universal healthcare. That is why I, along with other NHS staff, patients and volunteers from Momentum, have been participating in international solidarity phone banks over the last few months to make calls to people in the US to build support for the Medicare for All campaign.
Our most recent was last Saturday where we spoke to people about the NHS and why a universal healthcare system is not only desirable but achievable. I was horrified by the stories I heard about people in the US going without the care they desperately need, or being forced to choose between paying for their medication or their groceries.
Another volunteer spoke to a middle-aged woman, a single mother of two, who started crying down the phone when describing the extra cleaning job she had begun on top of her full time job to pay for medication that she needed for her heart condition.
But amidst the crisis, there is also hope. I was heartened by the number of people I spoke to who agreed that things needed to change, and who were willing to do the work to make it happen. At Saturday’s phonebank alone, an additional 92 volunteers were recruited to join the National Nurses United’s campaign for free healthcare.
Under the noses of the US healthcare companies vying to get their grubby hands on our NHS, and on the watch of the politicians in their pay, a powerful grassroots movement is transforming the debate in the US.
National Nurses United, the largest union of bedside nurses in the US, has been working with allies to organise in workplaces and neighbourhoods to build support for Medicare for All. So far this people-powered movement has surpassed all expectations. Medicare for All now has support across the political spectrum, and the nurses are working to turn that public support into political power.
Medicare for All has become a litmus test for Democratic presidential hopefuls. Already 113 members of Congress have signed up to The Medicare for All Act of 2019 and the bill has had three historic and unprecedented hearings in different Congressional Committees.
The struggles for universal healthcare on both sides of the pond are entwined. The same choice is faced in both countries: should we place human need or corporate greed at the centre of our healthcare systems? As a nurse I know which side I am on.
Danielle Tiplady is a nurse and activist