THE BLOG
08/30/2013 04:31 pm ET | Updated Oct 30, 2013

Equality, Justice and Universal Healthcare

It's always scary to find a lump. I found one about the width and length of my thumb on my abdomen on a Friday morning in late June and booked an appointment with my general practitioner for the following Tuesday. She thought it might be a hernia (which I found incredible given that I'm a fit, 45-year-old woman), but I obsessively read everything about hernias until my appointment with a surgeon a few days later. He basically said, not so fast, and sent me off for an ultrasound.

It was now the first week of July and my appointment for the ultrasound wasn't until the 17th. I was also planning my yearly trip home to California for August and the thought of going to the U.S. with an unknown health issue that could require high-cost, out of pocket, medical attention scared the hell out of me.

I've lived in Spain for 15 years and wish that more Americans could experience single-payer healthcare for themselves. Both the teaching doctor and student who did my ultrasound were impressed by my surgeon's suspicion that it wasn't a hernia when it turned out to be a lipoma. Basically, a lump of fat that can wait. A week later, I got a call from the hospital to book an appointment for MRI the day after I get back to Madrid so my surgeon will have everything at hand when I see him on September 17th.

Certain people with an interest in preserving the healthcare status quo in the U.S. tell you horror stories that contradict my personal experiences with single-payer, or so-called socialized medicine. I had a flurry of doctor's appointments in June and July, mostly because as a university lecturer, that's when I have a little extra time in my schedule. A dermatologist assured me that a few funny moles I have are nothing, but scheduled a follow up in six months. I had an x-ray and an electrocardiogram for what turned out to be a functional heart murmur the university doctor heard. Breast cancer runs in my family and I've been given mammograms every two years since I was 32, plus ultrasounds every six months. In a single-payer system preventative care pays.

Don't believe those who claim the European healthcare systems are bankrupt: the big problems in Spain have come from the privatized hospitals that have had to be bailed out by the government. It's common knowledge that you'll want to get any important surgery done through public healthcare. Private insurance, which can run as low as $70 per month, is for getting more convenient routine appointments. I do everything through the public system and have my own regular doctors and the same specialist will follow me through whatever issue comes up, such as the surgeon in charge of my fat lump.

More importantly, single-payer healthcare means I only worry about healthcare costs when I'm visiting the U.S. When I was self-employed, I paid about $290 per month for what's called "social security" which includes healthcare and future retirement benefits, and when I became a part-time employee at my university, they started paying this. When you're unemployed, retired, on disability or maternity leave, you still have access to healthcare. Given this, you can understand why I involuntarily yelled at the TV when I heard Republican Party Chairman Reince Preibus call Obamacare "European socialist style healthcare" on CNN's State of the Union a few weeks ago. If only it were! But it is certainly a step towards a more just system.

There was a lot of talk this week about freedom and equality as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. It was heartening to hear President Obama speak of justice as well (in fact, he mentioned justice 8 times, freedom 5 and equality once in his speech). The heart of his words was about economic justice for all Americans as a condition for equality.

Justice, freedom and equality are all words we Americans like but we like justice less when it's combined with something else, such as social justice or economic justice. In fact, Obama never said "economic justice," that's just my conclusion. We like to think of America as the land of equal opportunity but this is a myth fueled by economic injustice. Unequal access to healthcare is one part of this pizza that's been unfairly cut up and passed around to the lucky few. Finding a way to make access to healthcare available to every American requires a measure of justice, as well as ethics and morals (words we are even less comfortable with).

All Americans understand from experience that when healthcare is tied to work, often very precarious work, or work that doesn't provide it at all, there's very little chance of equality. How can a person who has to sweat every possible healthcare need ever going to be equal to someone who has the peace of mind that comes with solid healthcare coverage? Not to mention all the people in between with varying degrees of insecurity. Universal healthcare is about justice (and ethics and morals) and is part of the economic justice needed to achieve freedom and equality. Along with it come education and a living wage.

We need to understand that "European socialist style healthcare" is a pretty good thing not only because it makes economic sense but that it's ethical, moral and economically just.