I always feel a little anxious sitting in the dentist chair, but fortunately I usually only need a cleaning. One thing I never worried about was paying for our family’s dental visits. Prescription drug coverage, dental care and other health care options were part of a benefits package my family received through my spouse’s unionized workplace. Why would I not wish that peace of mind for everyone?
Taking care of our bodies is a human need, but we have yet to make a commitment to a comprehensive health care system for everyone regardless of work status or income. Dental care and prescription drug coverage is both essential and expensive. Many people however, do not receive benefits through their workplace and cannot afford private insurance. Others remain on social assistance rather than take a low wage job without benefits.
It is well documented that chronic stress leads to poor health. Middle class wages have stagnated, contract work has increased and union jobs have declined and this leads to more anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity. In her book on basic income, health economist Evelyn Forget reminds us that:
“Economic insecurity exists when a family fears that its income might fall dramatically without advance notice and without the resources necessary to ride out the risk. Economic insecurity is a state of mind rather than a characteristic of an income flow.”
Predictable income, even if low or in the form of benefits helps to reduce economic insecurity. Evaluations from the basic income pilot illustrate the connection between increased funds and decreased stress. The baseline survey reported that at the start of the pilot 81% of participants were suffering from moderate to severe psychological stress. After receiving the basic income 88% of respondents reported less stress and anxiety and 73% had less depression. Upon cancellation, not surprisingly almost 83% of people felt worried about the future.
The solution is to extend our universal health care system to cover prescription drugs and dental care. For some people, this proposition is unreasonable. They claim that they are burdened by the taxes they already pay. In the Nordic countries, extended health care needs are publicly funded. Danish author Meik Wiking, outlines a Nordic way of thinking about taxation:
“There is wide support for the welfare state. The support stems from an awareness of the fact that the welfare model turns our collective wealth into well-being. We are not paying taxes; we are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life. The key to understanding the high levels of well-being in Denmark is the welfare model’s ability to reduce risk, uncertainty, and anxiety among its citizens and to prevent extreme unhappiness.”
When we see public services as an investment, we are more likely to take ownership for their effective delivery and hold our policy makers to account.
To those who believe that the individual should be responsible for some essential services, consider the trust and reciprocity that Nordic citizens experience:
“The social-democratic model is predicated on solidarity: my neighbour and I both pay taxes so that we can both have a high standard of living. We care for each other on the promise that we will each be cared for. Universal social programs foster solidarity where instead of seeing your neighbour as an opponent or an obstacle, you see them as a partner in building and maintaining society.”
Without good health it is more difficult to be an engaged, contributing citizen. Pharmacare and dental care provide a measure of security for all of us. Equality is strengthened through greater solidarity, and social mobility is enhanced when all citizens have access to a healthier life.