Linking health insurance to employment creates an American caste system
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013 22:10
We are all familiar with the caste systems found all over the world, especially the Indian caste system. In a caste system there is no socioeconomic ladder to climb. When one is born in a caste system, they marry and die within the caste. There is little vertical mobility between classes. The most renowned caste system are the “untouchables” in India.
The “untouchables” are a group of almost 160 million Indians who are tainted by their birth into this social class. The rest of society deems them impure and sub human, according to National Geographic. They are often forced into unsanitary jobs, such as working with human feces.
Society shuns these people, often leaving them no chance for mobility, resulting in a vicious cycle of being born into a caste system, marrying within the class, and birthing children who in turn will endure the same.
Like the horrendous caste system of India, the United States of America has integrated in its society a similar system, limiting citizens from social mobility.
During World War II, due to the shortage of workers, corporations necessitated a continuously popular method to incite employees to work for their company. However, the U.S government had prevented an increase in wages, as it would result in inflation, which could be detrimental during war.
As a result, companies created health insurance to attract workers. Since, health insurance policies have commonly been provided through jobs.
Susan Sered and Rushika Ferandopulle, authors of the book “Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity” state that “the current American system in which health care is linked to employment is creating a caste of the chronically ill, infirm and marginally employed.”
Because health insurance is directly linked to employment, when a family or individual loses their employment and falls into what Sered and Ferandopulle call a “death spiral,” there is a very little chance for social mobility.
The “death spiral” is a system of events that form this American caste structure. In the “death spiral” when job disruptions occur due to ill health, a subsequent loss of health insurance follows. This loss of health coverage results in medical conditions going untreated, which in turn worsens health conditions, lowering the ability for an individual to work. This lowered ability to work results in a smaller chance of attaining a job, which lengthens the period no medical coverage.
In other words society shuns these marginally employed or unemployed individuals. They have no way of improving their health and are locked into this caste system. Sered and Ferandopulle illustrate that this group of individuals is similar to the untouchables. The uninsured are often noted by society by physical and moral characteristics, which differentiates them from society’s other members.
The “untouchables” of America are often noted by their “rotten teeth, chronic cough, bad skin, a limp, sores that heal, obesity, uncorrected hearing or vision deficits, addiction to pain medications,” said Sered and Ferandopulle.
Americans also have long placed hard work to strive toward the American Dream as a sign of moral virtue, however when they encounter someone is who is unemployed, society deems them as lazy and uncooperative. All of these factors establish the caste system.
America is the only first world country to not have universal health care. Instead, Americans who cannot work due to ill health are forced to stay unemployed as their health deteriorates. The American non-system intervenes only when the unemployed are near death, only to be temporarily stabilized and thrown out in society to deteriorate till near death again and so on, all at the cost of working Americans. We ought recognize that this caste system in American is not due to personal decisions; instead it is the result of our failure to provide basic health care to everyone. There needs to be a push for more universal coverage and to eliminate this caste system.