Organizing For America — June 28, 2009 at 12:14 pm

“I Don’t Believe Health Care is a Right”


Cross-posted at The Daily Kos.

Yesterday I participated in our local Organizing For America (OFA) National Health Care Day of Service in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area. Our event was a health care fair where we brought together various agencies in the region to help people without health care find resources to help them with their situation.

I spent part of the day canvassing the neighborhood, letting people know about our fair and asking them to sign onto President Obama’s Three Principles (more on that in a bit.) I spoke to one young guy who has availed himself of county health coverage program. But he refused to sign onto the Three Principles. Why? Because, he told me:

“I don’t believe that health care is a right.”

We had a beautiful day for our event. It was hot and sunny and clear. Several agencies participated and we had a number of neighbohood folks stop by. Here’s the entrance to our event:

Here is a group of folks discussing single-payer health care and debating whether it should be pushed instead of the plan being put forth by the president right now:

During my canvassing, which took me back to last summer and fall, beating the pavement for the Campaign for Change, I talked to a number of people, primarily college students attending Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Nearly all of them knew someone without health care coverage and some face the loss of their own coverage when they graduate at the end of the summer or next year.

If these students who stand to lose their insurance coverage when they graduate were certain they were going to get a job when they graduate, they’d still go through the normal anxieties that graduating seniors go through:

What job offer should I accept?
What’s it going to be like being on my own?
What will it be like to live in a new city where I have no family or friends?
Will I succeed in my new job?

But, with the economy the way it is right now and the prospects of landing a job after graduation much less certain, now young Americans have an additional anxiety:

What will I do without health care insurance?
What if I get sick?
What if I’m injured?
How will I pay for my medical bills and my college debt?

Suddenly this national issue is confronting young people in a more profound way than any other issue today.

A couple of the people I talked to told me they had friends from England or New Zealand or Canada and they just could not believe the wealthiest country in the world doesn’t provide health care to its citizens as a manner of course. They just shake their heads and laugh at the absurdity of it.

I spoke to several people yesterday who participate in a very unique health plan offered by Washtenaw County called the Washtenaw Health Plan (WHP). It’s an affordable program for County residents only and, according to their website covers:

  • Doctor/Clinic Visits
  • Outpatient lab and X-ray tests
  • Prescriptions from pharmacies if on the list of covered drugs
  • Limited mental health services
  • Hospitalization at University of Michigan Hospital or St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Washtenaw County
  • ER visits for true emergencies

However, at our health care fair, I learned that the County has 9,000 applicants for this coverage but only 6,000 spots. Which is why, when you go to the website, you will see this notice:

About 30% of the folks taking advantage of another program in the county actually have health coverage but still can not handle the financial burden, the so-called “under-insured”. Most of these people work in the auto industry. As you know, in Michigan, the auto industry is rapidly disintegrating so additional strain is being put on the systems and programs already in place.

One of the people I spoke with was a twenty-something guy sitting on his porch with his laptop on his lap. I introduced myself as being from OFA and asked if he or anyone he knew had troubles getting the health care they needed.

“Nope, I’m covered,” he said. “I’ve got WHP through the County.”

“Ah,” I said, “One of the lucky ones! So, another thing we’re doing is asking people to sign a petition in support of the president’s Three Principles for health care reform. Would you be interested in signing my petition?”

These three principles (you can read them HERE [pdf]) are:

  • REDUCE COSTS — Rising health care costs are crushing the budgets of governments, businesses, individuals, and families, and they must be brought under control
  • GUARANTEE CHOICE — Every American must have the freedom to choose their plan and doctor – including the choice of a public insurance option
  • ENSURE AFFORDABLE CARE FOR ALL —All Americans must have quality and affordable health care

“NO!” Twenty-something Guy said. “That’s too much like socialism!”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“That’d be like Canada or something. And Candians come HERE for health care, that’s how messed up their system is.”

I thought for a second, pondering the fact that he had his and was perfectly content with that.

“So what do you say to the millions of people who don’t have insurance?” I asked him.

He mumbled, “Well, there’s Medicaid and stuff. There’s things out there…”

And then he said:

“I just don’t think health care is a right.”

I really didn’t have much else to say to this young man but, in retrospect, I wish I had engaged him a bit more. And if I hadn’t had more houses to visit, I would have asked him some more questions. Like:

“Why are you okay with paying for police and fire protection for your community but not health care?”

“Isn’t good health an essential component to Life and The Pursuit of Happiness, three of the inalienable rights?”

“Since we’re all already paying for the health care of the uninsured and under-insured through higher costs of health care, wouldn’t it benefit everyone if we provided health care to the whole country?”

What the whole experience made me realize is that there’s a fundamental conversation that we as progressives need to be having with our friends and neighbors and coworkers and anyone who will listen. It’s the fundamental question about whether or not health care coverage is a right or a privilege, something to be earned rather than something we can expect from society. Because while some people think we have a right to have guns, a right to free speech, a right to assemble and the rest, they very clearly do NOT see health care as something that’s a right and until most people do, serious and effective reform will be very difficult.

So I urge you to think about this and to have some good answers about why health care in this country SHOULD be a right rather than a privilege. Because as long as it’s a privilege then only the privileged will have it. And that makes us a poorer country.

I’m just sayin’…