In an anguished column, Matthew Gagnon, CEO of The Maine Heritage Policy Center, describes the extraordinary case of Alfie Evans, a British child born with a neurodegenerative disorder who was at the center of a legal and international firestorm until his death early Saturday morning.

At Consumers for Affordable Health Care, we are not physicians, lawyers, judges or bureaucrats. We take no position on the Evans case, but we are disturbed by Gagnon’s use of such an extreme case to disparage the United Kingdom’s publicly funded health system, which serves 58 million people.

In detailing the Evans case, it appears Gagnon’s purpose is to make people afraid of “state-sponsored health care.” What he seems to forget is, here in America, plenty of people already use and appreciate health care sponsored by the government — though they may not think of it that way. In fact, on this side of the Atlantic the public has undertaken medical care for some populations since before the country’s inception.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, the pilgrims passed a law in 1636 providing support to disabled veterans. Over time, public support for veterans evolved into what the VA describes as “the most comprehensive system of assistance for Veterans of any nation of the world.” This publicly funded system provides medical care not only to veterans but to retirees, spouses and children.

We have other publicly funded health care programs in the U.S., including Medicare, which provides health coverage for 55 million people over age 65, and Medicaid, which provides coverage for close to 74 million individuals, including seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 20 million people, including 75,000 Mainers, have health insurance because of this public-private partnership.

While these programs may not be perfect, private insurance in the U.S. creates numerous problems. According to a 2015 Commonwealth Fund report, the U.S. health care system is the most expensive in the world. This unfortunate status has far-reaching consequences for the U.S. economy, contributing to wage stagnation, personal bankruptcy, budget deficits, and a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

Sure, private insurers take on risk and should be rewarded, but given large private insurers’ rising stock prices, larger than expected profits and increasing investor confidence, everyone should be concerned about the individuals, families and businesses struggling to pay for coverage. Furthermore, it is shocking, if not “horrific,” that many people in the U.S. cannot afford coverage and must choose between basic needs and medicine. Fortunately, if a family in Maine loses private coverage, there is a government-sponsored health care program that can serve as a “safety net” so at least their children can get the health care they need.

Although this patchwork system works for many of us, it leaves too many people to fend for themselves. About 28 million people in the U.S. lack any form of health insurance. Even those who are eligible often face barriers to enrolling. At Consumers for Affordable Health Care, we help people understand, find and use health insurance, whether public or private, and access other programs to meet their medical needs. Every day we hear about obstacles, including exorbitant costs, that Maine people face when trying to access the health care or medicine they need. We would be first in line to advocate for a more streamlined system — and one in which everyone has coverage and access to quality care, regardless of their ability to pay.

In deriding the U.K. health system, Gagnon ignores the fact that the U.K. spends about half of what the U.S. spends on health care, measured as a percent of GDP. What’s more, U.K. health outcomes in many areas are consistently better than in the U.S., including a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy.

Do we argue for a system like the U.K.’s? Not necessarily. We support universal coverage, a concept distinct from single-payer health insurance. But, unlike Gagnon, we look at the big picture in addition to individual outcomes. Millions of Americans have benefitted historically from government-funded health care and continue to do so. Let’s not lose sight of that extraordinary contribution to the health and well-being of our fellow Americans.

Julia M. Underwood is the associate director for Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a Maine-based nonprofit organization with the mission to improve access to quality and affordable health care for all people living in Maine.

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