Walter White: A Victim of American Healthcare


Future generations might view Breaking Bad as one long ad for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but at its inception, the issue of healthcare was the root of anxiety for millions of Americans.

Most critics and viewers alike are hailing Breaking Bad as one of the greatest television shows of all time, and for good reason. Like a million other viewers, I was watching the season finale with abated breath this past Sunday night. It was not until this episode that I realized something about the show that I hadn’t really thought about.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston as Walter White, high school chemistry teacher turned drug dealer and eventually, powerful drug lord.  The reason for this extreme transformation stems from Mr. White discovering he has lung cancer, and realizing that he may not have long to live. Desperate for money for his family in case he dies, Mr. White uses his knowledge of chemistry to cook crystal meth and, with his partner, distribute it across the Albuquerque area.

Obviously, this is an American television show, but it wasn’t until this last episode that I realized why only American audiences would connect to Mr. White’s money problems. Could it be this show is really a commentary on the American healthcare system?


Well, duh.

There are several other countries who would look at this show and probably think it ridiculous, ludicrous even that a man faced with cancer would have to worry about something like paying for his medical care- France, Canada, and Australia just to name a few.

Before becoming a meth cook, White is working two jobs, one as a high school chemistry teacher, and the other a cashier at a car wash. As some would have you believe, teachers are very well compensated when it comes to their healthcare, but as Barbara Freidland points out, “Often they, teachers-police-fire fighters- are forced into HMO’s. HMO’s do not usually like paying for expensive medical expertise and treatments. And what if White gets fired because he is too sick to continue to work? There goes the heath coverage… So let’s pay teachers more and hedge fund managers less.”

In this time of great confusion and anxiety over what will or won’t happen concerning healthcare in this country, Breaking Bad is a wonderful indictment on our present system, one that the show points out is broken. Not only does Walt long for money, but he also longs for control; control over his health, how he recovers, how he lives, and how he dies. The system we have had in place robs Walter White of these choices, compelling him to do unspeakable things.

Just two days after the season finale, the ACA went online providing millions of Americans with health insurance purchased through regulated exchanges. If the series had started in 2014, the year Obamacare will be fully implemented, White would have had very few financial worries and his life would have made for extremely boring television. The ACA bans annual limits on insurance coverage and it also puts a limit on out-of-pocket expenses both for families and individuals. According to the Daily Beast, “ the White family would have had to pay $12,700 for Walt’s care. A large sum, but not so much that it makes sense to go into the meth-dealing business.”

This shows examines several important themes: family, loyalty, love, power, gender roles, and the meaning of being “good.” I definitely recommend coming out from under that rock and checking it out. In the meantime, enjoy these graphics that pretty much sum up the connection Breaking Bad shares with our healthcare system.


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