by Anthony Erhardt
Often times in today’s political climate I find myself feeling powerless, fatigued, and ready to give up on activism. I know this is a feeling that many of my peers and fellow activists know all too well, especially when President Trump seems hell-bent on destroying all of the progress we made over the last 8 years under President Obama simply to spite his legacy. I can only speak for myself, but thankfully this hopeless feeling is only temporary, and I will hear a speech, remember a quote, or attend a political event and immediately be reinvigorated with energy, optimism, and a sense of duty. These past few weeks as I lamented the President’s decision to rescind DACA and force 800,000 innocent Dreamers back into the shadows, I turned to a source of inspiration that never fails to lift my spirits: the words of our 35th President, John F. Kennedy. The particular speech I listened to was given by President Kennedy on May 20th, 1962 before a packed audience at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The topic of the speech? Healthcare, more specifically a nationalized health care plan being pushed by JFK that would later come to fruition as Medicare. The President was pushing back on frequent accusations that he was a “Communist” for advocating for socialized medicine (sound familiar?) and that the government should stay out of healthcare. A few lines really stuck out to me:
“The fact of the matter is that what we are now talking about doing, most of the countries of Europe did years ago. The British did it 30 years ago. We are behind every country, pretty nearly, in Europe, in this matter of medical care for our citizens.”
“And then other people say, “Why doesn’t the Government mind its own business?” What is the Government’s business, is the question (…) This bill serves the public interest. It involves the Government because it involves the public welfare. The Constitution of the United States did not make the President or the Congress powerless. It gave them definite responsibilities to advance the general welfare–and that is what we’re attempting to do. (…) I think it is most appropriate that the President of the United States, whose business place is in Washington, should come to this city and participate in these rallies. Because the business of the Government is the business of the people–and the people are right here.”
Coincidentally, that same week Senator Bernie Sanders (whom I proudly voted for in the Democratic primary and would do so again) introduced his long-awaited Medicare for All bill to Congress. Unlike when the Senator introduced a similar bill in 2013, this time he had some major co-sponsors: Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Jeff Merkley, and Kamala Harris. I was amazed and overwhelmed with pride at the same time: the two wings of the Democratic Party unifying around a major issue and showing solidarity. I was damn proud to be a Democrat that day and even more proud of the courage displayed by Senators Booker, Gillibrand, Warren, Merkley, and Harris for supporting Bernie’s proposal. Unfortunately, just as President Kennedy faced back in 1962, Bernie and his colleagues are facing an intense amount of propaganda, fear-mongering, and misinformation from their opponents in the Republican Party. Because wanting every citizen of your country to have healthcare obviously means you want the government to take over your entire life and put you before a death panel, right? Yep, no slippery slope or straw man logical fallacies at play there. For those of you who aren’t convinced, either on the right or left, about signing on to single-payer allow me to make my argument for it. First some facts about our current healthcare system.
According to a 2009 study from the American Journal of Public Health, 45,000 people die annually due to lack of health insurance. Furthermore, as verified by Politifact, the United States is the only wealthy country in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) that doesn’t provide universal healthcare coverage. The U.S. spends more per capita per person than any other major country but our life expectancy isn’t longer and we were ranked dead last in several categories in a report by The Commonwealth Fund in 2014. The Congressional Budget Office, The New York Times, and FactCheck.Org all found that the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare”, has succeeded in slowing the growing cost of healthcare, insured nearly 20 million Americans which lowered the uninsured rate to a historic 10%, and contains several broadly popular provisions such as not denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. Fun-fact: the individual mandate portion of the ACA was originally crafted by the conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s as a response to Hillary Clinton’s single-payer healthcare plan and was first implemented (successfully mind you) by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. So why does the GOP hate their own plan? Lastly, the U.S. already tacitly supports guaranteeing health care as a right. In 1986 conservative God/President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. The law mandated that hospitals treat all citizens regardless of their ability to pay, their citizenship, or their legal status. Remember in 2012 when a GOP debate audience cheered the concept of letting someone without health care die outside a hospital? Well, legally you can’t do that. Thanks, Reagan!
The biggest attack levied against single-payer, or really any healthcare initiative, by the right is that it’s too expensive, we can’t afford it, and that Democrats are just a bunch of Socialists and Communists trying to give away free stuff and make people dependent on the government. To borrow a phrase from Vice President Joe Biden that’s a bunch of malarkey. I find it funny that the same people who are content spending $1.6 trillion on unsustainable and unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or $21.6 billion on a big dumb wall along the Mexican border, think that providing healthcare to all of our citizens is too much of a financial burden. Instead of wars and walls, how about Medicare for All? Not to mention the fact that in the long-term single-payer healthcare is actually cost-efficient. According to the Washington Post the price tag for universal healthcare is $32 trillion over the next 10 years. At first glance that seems like an enormous amount of money but what most detractors fail to take into account is the net savings concurrent to that $32 trillion figure. The National Healthcare Expenditure (NHE) estimates that we spend $3.2 trillion or $9,990 per person per year on both public and private healthcare. A study titled National Healthcare Expenditures, 2016-2025: Price Increases, Aging Push Sector to 20 Percent of Economy found that “health care costs in the United States are estimated to grow at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent from 2016 to 2025. If we apply this growth rate over 10 years, and add up the costs, our current healthcare system will cost $49 trillion.” Doing some quick math: $49 trillion (current system) — $32 trillion (single payer) = $17 trillion in savings. Also, if you think about it logically: single-payer would eliminate premiums, co-pays and most deductibles associated with private insurance thus decreasing the annual cost to middle-class Americans. An analysis by two public health policy professors found further savings gained by adopting Sanders’ proposal in the way of reduced administrative costs in insurance and to hospitals and by allowing Medicare greater leverage to negotiate prescription drug costs. Final reasons to support Medicare for All: Medicare is extremely popular. Medicare polls at 77% approval according to Pew Research. In addition, support for Single-Payer has been growing amongst the public and becoming mainstream among Democrats. Currently 33% of Americans support universal coverage- up 12 points from 2014- along with 52% of Democrats. I encourage everyone to read about Senator Sanders’ proposal, what it contains, and its efficacy and make their own decisions. You can read about the full contents of the bill here.
Some critics will argue that a private insurance market with competition will lead to lower healthcare prices. I challenge those individuals to show me an example of where this occurs because with a profit motive in health care, insurance company’s main objective is not to ensure coverage to all citizens but to make as much money as possible by insuring less people. In my opinion, this point really gets to the heart of the issue. Conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro will state that healthcare is not a right because it’s not expressly outlined in the Constitution or by falsely equivocating healthcare access to slavery by “demanding someone else’s labor.” Practically speaking they may be correct, but philosophically I disagree. I tend to agree more with political theorist Benjamin Gregg who wrote Human Rights as Social Construction. The summary of Gregg’s work states, “Most conceptions of human rights rely on metaphysical or theological assumptions that construe them as possible only as something imposed from outside existing communities. Most people, in other words, presume that human rights come from nature, God, or the United Nations. This book argues that reliance on such putative sources actually undermines human rights. Benjamin Gregg envisions an alternative; he sees human rights as locally developed, freely embraced, and indigenously valid. Human rights, he posits, can be created by the average, ordinary people to whom they are addressed, and that they are valid only if embraced by those to whom they would apply. To view human rights in this manner is to increase the chances and opportunities that more people across the globe will come to embrace them.”
The bottom line is: I don’t think there should be a profit motive in healthcare- when people’s lives are literally hanging in the balance. I don’t think healthcare should be a luxury for the few that are rich and not the many that are poor. I don’t think that in the wealthiest country on Earth, and supposedly the greatest, that any citizen should die from lack of healthcare coverage. My faith and my values are what inform my ideology- I’m a humanist. I believe in collectivism and looking out for the fellow members of our species. There is no care, no empathy, and no morality in a system that denies someone healthcare- and perhaps by extension life- based on socioeconomic status. Like the late Senator Ted Kennedy I consider fighting for universal healthcare coverage for every American as the cause of my life. Because of Senator Kennedy we have the Americans with Disabilities Act, the protections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a higher minimum wage, and countless other laws that have helped millions of Americans. Thus, I find it appropriate to end with a quote by him that reminds me of why I fight for the issues I care about- and why I’m confident we will one day achieve Ted and I’s dream. The great Senator once said, “For me this is a season of hope, new hope for a justice and fair prosperity for the many, and not just for the few — new hope. And this is the cause of my life — new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American — North, South, East, West, young, old — will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”