Healthcare as a Civil Right

Like millions of Americans, I have been waiting with bated breath for the healthcare reform that candidate Obama promised during his fall campaign.

It is not myself I am worried about, but my sons who have mild learning disabilities. I do not know what the future holds for them. All I know is that they are not following in the footsteps of stereotypical Indian American youth, winning spelling bees, attending Ivy League colleges, and producing 2.4 over-achieving children.

So President Obama has exactly one year to put a national health plan into place, by which time my oldest will turn twenty-three, becoming ineligible for his parents’ plan.

I know plenty of young people who, learning-disabled or not, face similar prospects. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a friend’s daughter came home for treatment after quitting law school, only to discover that she needed to stay in college to use the university’s insurance. So this brave young woman did her assignments while undergoing chemo. Isn’t there a better way to fight cancer than having to take tests while looking death in the eye?

After graduating from college, the daughters of two other friends are doing part-time jobs with no benefits, joining the ranks of America’s fifty million uninsured.

Watching TV images of people screaming insults at townhall meetings I wonder, do these citizens not have children? Or do they hate Obama more than they love their sons and daughters?

Ironically, Obama’s New Hampshire town hall meeting to address health care reform happened the same day that Eunice Kennedy Shriver(President John F. Kennedy’s sister) passed away. She had been responsible for creating the Special Olympics and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Shriver succeeded because she had focused the conversation about disabled people on civil rights, not charity.

Obama: take note.

Just as a handicapped person has an equal right to amenities that a healthy person has, a sick person should have a right to become healthy via treatment, right? Why does this simple premise elude so many Americans?

The short answer? Because they are ignorant of their own history.

In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was on the verge of signing into law a national healthcare system as a part of his “New Deal.” But the usual suspects, including the American Medical Association(AMA), raised Cain, supporting private plans that ensured profits for doctors, pharmaceutical corporations, and insurance companies.

Services like electricity and natural gas have long been labeled “basic necessities,” in our society, with the proviso that they will be made available to every citizen at “just and reasonable rates.” Regulatory precedents have been established to provide these commodities to every consumer regardless of economic status, so that today, the poor qualify for utility subsidies, both at the state and the federal level.

If electricity and natural gas are basic necessities, doesn’t it logically follow that medical care should be a fundamental right of every citizen too? Yet no law of Congress has ever made it mandatory for American citizens to receive this most basic of human rights.

Right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation have long cast the issue in terms of economics, not civil or human rights. They have also successfully mobilized their base.

Democrats, on the other hand, have failed to organize the silent majority; the uninsured, the poor, and the seriously ill who have been denied treatment are not marching in the streets and showing up at townhall meetings. Alas, those who need healthcare reform are too busy making ends meet.

It is clear that our healthcare system is broken. A system that puts insurance clerks in charge of deciding who gets care, will never truly care for patients, will never create a healthy society, will never be cost-effective.

I, for one, don’t understand what value the insurance middleman adds to our well-being. Every time I need a specialist, my doctor has to fill out an HMO referral form, the utility of which I have yet to fathom.

So I wonder, why are so many people suspicious of government bureaucrats but don’t mind HMO hacks deciding whether they live or die?

It was George Bernard Shaw who wrote nearly a century ago that a medical system which profited from people’s suffering would never be humane. That axiom holds true today more than ever before.
Right-wingers are scaring people by alleging that Obama’s healthcare plan contains “death panels.” Never mind that our society already has “death panels” in the form of insurance bureaucracies that deny them treatment in case of pre-existing conditions or inability to pay.

The only way to get rid of the middle-man would be to turn to a single-payer system, an idea that Obama has abandoned as being politically impractical. What remains on the table is a governmental system in competition with private plans. And the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are battling this on the grounds that they will not be able to compete with the government. Is this the same corporate sector that usually claims that government can do no right?

The United States stands at a crossroads today. One fork leads to a society in which a select few squander money on unnecessary procedures while many others suffer from curable conditions due to lack of treatment.

The other road leads to a civilized society in which healthcare is a basic human right, a civil right.

The choice is yours. If you wish to live in a society where this basic human and civil right is offered to every citizen, you need to contact your senator now so your voice will not be drowned out in the static of media noise.

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