PROGRESSIVE PERSPECTIVE: Health care is a right, not a privilege


Manuel Balce Ceneta | Associated Press

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduces the Medicare for All Act of 2019, on Capitol Hill on April 10, 2019.

Every year, in the United States of America—the wealthiest country in the history of the world—close to 50,000 people die and over half-a-million file bankruptcy because they cannot afford to pay for health care. That number is zero in every other modern developed nation, because they all have universal health care, and only one Democratic presidential candidate is doing everything in his power to ensure the same security for all American citizens.

While other candidates have mostly backed away from the fight for the most prominent single-payer legislation in the country, Medicare for All, Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been pushing the bill, which he himself wrote, for several years, and the senator’s exceptional consistency seems now to be paying substantial dividends.

A February article published in Vox with the headline “Why Medicare-for-All works for Bernie Sanders—and nobody else” states, “Sanders was the most trusted Democratic candidate on health care even when he was polling behind former Vice President Joe Biden in the national surveys. Medicare-for-all is most popular among young voters, who are critical to Sanders’ base.”

That trust from voters is also translating into support at the polls.

Per a Feb. 25 Salon article, “For the third straight Democratic presidential contest — the first three of the 2020 election — Sen. Bernie Sanders won the most votes of any candidate in a still crowded field. And for the third straight election, a strong majority of voters indicated a preference for Sanders’ premier policy proposal, Medicare for All.”

In Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada alike, most Democratic voters confirmed, via entrance polls, that health care is the number one issue they will be voting on in 2020. Furthermore, 6-in-10 Democratic voters in each of the first three states said in entrance and exit polls that they “support eliminating private insurance and creating a single-payer system.”

Per the Salon article, “(Five years ago), nearly 80% of Democratic voters and a majority of Americans overall supported Medicare for All. Now, entrance polls reveal that Democratic voters in all three of the first presidential contests of the 2020 race show strong support for the single-payer insurance option.”

Corporate Democrats and Republicans funded by the health insurance industry dismiss Medicare for All as an unrealistic “fringe” idea, but the single-payer system has been thoroughly tested throughout the world and has been proven to work far more effectively—by guaranteeing universal coverage at lower costs—than our current system.

Those in opposition to ensuring all people the opportunity to live healthily fear-monger about the potential costs of Medicare for All, but in reality, even conservative estimates show it will save millions of tax payer dollars.

Additionally, over half of all Republican voters support Medicare for All, and nearly three-fourths of the national Democratic constituency does as well. Regardless, most politicians in both the country’s major parties repeatedly dismiss the notion entirely while raking in unlimited contributions from industry corporations and smearing anyone who dares to fight for The Little Guy.

No modern nation, especially one constantly claiming such exceptionalism as the U.S. has for decades, can morally allow tens of thousands of its most vulnerable citizens to go bankrupt or to die struggling to pay for necessities like emergency ambulance rides and visits to the hospital or the doctor’s office.

Citizens of every other developed nation in the world are not forced to worry they will be forced to decide which medicine to skip today, whether to skip a doctor’s appointment or trip to the grocery store, whether that ambulance ride is really worth it or whether suicide is a better option when cancer treatment bankrupts the whole family, as happens every day in the U.S. And the list goes on and on. This is not a debatable position anywhere else in the modern civilized world except for in our country, where the political spectrum is so shifted to the right that even most Democrats claiming to be liberal or progressive are hesitant to fight for populist policies that would save millions of American lives.

Nearly 30 million Americans currently do not have health insurance. The U.S. pays double what most other modern nations pay for health care and the overwhelming majority of citizens still have substantially worse coverage. In the U.S., health insurance is a leading cause of bankruptcy, which isn’t something families are forced to worry about in other modern developed nations.

Americans do not have to or deserve to and should not be forced to suffer while being stripped of their personal dignity and human right to simply be alive. Other modern nations ration their healthcare systems based on who needs care most essentially and immediately, therefore providing care to those who will die if they do not get help; in the U.S., medical priority is given to those with the most economic wealth and social power.

The U.S. has well beyond the ability and the funds to provide exceptional health care to all its citizens as a right instead of providing care based on the size of a patient’s wallet or the extent of their political influence.

Whether Medicare for All will continue polling as favorably through Super Tuesday and onward remains to be seen, however, one reality of the post-2016 era of American politics remains clear: As long as there are thousands of innocent Americans dying on the broken streets of our crumbling infrastructure each year, millions of young people and progressives across the country will continue fighting for Medicare for All and other populist policies to improve the lives of the middle and lower classes, unwilling to support any candidate not unapologetically doing the same.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].