“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. – Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights – Chicago, March 25, 1966
Haven’t we been arguing about this for a shamefully long period of time? If the U.S. is so “exceptional,” why are we lagging behind other industrialized nations when it comes to human rights – specifically healthcare?
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Everyone has the right to medical care and necessary social services. Universal health care. In 2010, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) issued its Statement on Health Reform: Why the New Health Law Fails to Meet Human Rights Standards:
[T]he new health law fails to meet the key human rights standards of universality, equity, and accountability. Rather than guaranteeing universal health care, the law excludes many millions of people from access to coverage and care. Instead of ensuring that care is available for those who need it, the law makes access contingent on the purchase of private insurance. And rather than holding the private sector accountable for protecting the right to health, the law permits the industry’s focus on their bottom line. Health care is treated as commodity, not as a universal right and a public good shared equitably by all.
In “America’s Forgotten Civil Right – Healthcare,” Dan Munro cites fear as the biggest reason the United States of America has not adopted universal coverage as the very foundation of its healthcare system. He points to Germany as “a great example of a healthcare system that is both universal coverage and multi-payer” but goes on to say that “[p]laying into the politics of controversy and discord…serves well to fuel the fear that universal coverage is “Government-run” healthcare which is known to be vastly inferior, grossly inefficient – and forever shackled to long waits, huge bureaucracies and the final of all personal indignities – death panels.” Further, the U.S. likes to believe it is the shining example to the world on how best to do everything. It is galling to think that other countries might do some things better–that we might actually learn from them. And finally, we cling to the belief that this is the land of opportunity – where everyone can go from rags to riches if only they work hard enough, and anyone who demonstrates otherwise is a loser with a capital “L.” I think that we focus so exclusively on the “cons” of any proposal that the “pros” get drowned out – or get left without coverage in the media, just as millions are left without healthcare coverage. This negativity spills over into our dealings with each other – rather than seeing healthcare as a right, and universal coverage as a solution to be worked on together, we find excuses to shoot down sound proposals that might actually work to the equal benefit of all.
The ACA is a start, but it still favors profit over people. And it cannot be an end in itself. But to those who are so violently opposed to it and would simply gut it or repeal it, I would urge reform – not throwing the baby out with the bath water. We should neither view the ACA as the be-all and end-all of healthcare reform, nor gut it for its flaws, simply because some parts of it fall far short of the ideal of universal healthcare that is treated as a right, not a privilege to those who can afford it. Dr. Philip Caper, no great fan of “Obamacare,” writes, in “Greed, fear and other barriers to health care as a human right,”
As a physician, I have always thought that health care should be a human right. I believe there is a strong moral argument for health care systems that cover everybody. There is now a strong economic argument as well. Overwhelming evidence exists from all other wealthy countries that a simpler and therefore more efficient system is much less expensive and more humane than ours.
It is estimated that 25% of our current healthcare spending is wasted, due largely to complexity and the way we classify people for various tiers of coverage. So why don’t we simply adopt universal coverage? Dr. Caper believes it boils down to apathy on the part of people who already have coverage, fear of losing what we already have, ignorance of how the healthcare system actually works (or doesn’t), and greed on the part of those people and corporations that profit from the inefficiencies of our current system.
“You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility.”
Unidentified Irishman (as referenced in a 1970 U.S. Congressional Hearing)
If we Americans want to cling to our “exceptionalism,” we need to be exceptional – in a positive way. We need to demonstrate, once again, that human rights are our core value. We should not be afraid, or too proud, to study and learn from the best examples of other nations and improve even further upon the systems they’ve put into place. We need to be fearless, compassionate, and generous of spirit – because fear and miserly greed have no place in a country that sees itself as an “exceptional” beacon of hope and best practices – a leader on the world stage. The ACA is not our best; we can certainly do much better, if we work together with the shared belief in healthcare as a human right. Unfortunately, some would waste more time, effort, and money dismantling and destroying it than in fixing it.