past week, a good friend of mine died as a result of multiple brain
tumors. The diagnosis was in August and she passed away in less
than three months.
the fact that the odds were against her, she was determined to fight
for her life. In the last communication I had with her, true to
form, she looked optimistically at her situation and commented that
she was fortunate to have had health insurance. She could not have
imagined carrying on this struggle without it. In that sense, she
said, she was more fortunate than the nearly fifty million people
living without any health insurance.
word of my friendís death came, I found myself thinking about her
comments, offered this summer in the midst of right-wing disruptions
of the healthcare town halls. While health insurance did not save
my friendís life, it offered her a chance that she would not have
otherwise had. In fact, lacking insurance, she would have passed
away without dignity.
is the debate over healthcare reform not framed in these terms?
This is the question that I keep asking. We hear about the raw numbers
of people who lack healthcare and we also hear (or know) of those
who hold onto jobs only because of healthcare. We hear a debate
about a public option - governmental involvement to guarantee some
level of healthcare for all citizens - and we may even hear the
call for Medicare for All!
too little attention goes to the realities for people such as my
friend, not to mention people who have less severe ailments. We
do not stop and ask, nor have the question posed, what happens to
that person who awakens one morning, lacking health insurance and
discovers that they have a brain tumor, leukemia, lupus, sickle
cell anemia, tuberculosis, lung cancer, or any number of other chronic,
and in some cases, fatal illnesses? In fact, when the right-wing
was chanting its insanity this past summer, I heard precious few
responses that focused on a simple question: what are people supposed
to do if they lack healthcare insurance or cannot afford it?
the standpoint of the political Right the answer is simple: they
should die. For progressives, we unfortunately respond all too often
at a level of abstraction. We allow ourselves to get pulled into
discussions about the federal deficit and how healthcare insurance
will be paid for, rather than focusing on at least two realities:
the cost of healthcare insurance continues to sky-rocket, and, second,
nearly fifty million people have absolutely no care and, as a result,
are throwing the dice every morning when they get up, hoping and
praying that they do not get ill or have an accident.
beneath the healthcare reform debate is actually a more general
but critical question: what is the role for government? The
political Right, particularly since the age of Reagan, has suggested
that government has no social role and is rather nothing more than
a guarantor of the peace (usually through the military, prisons,
and the police). The implications of this notion truly are that
everyone in this society is on their own to survive as best they
can and to expect nothing.
win the battle on healthcare reform, or even to ensure that there
is a public option (which I do not consider winning, but a slightly
positive change) progressives must put the issue of healthcare in
stark and personal terms. We must force the opponents to come out
and admit that they comfortable with allowing people to become ill
and die rather than have the government involve itself in a pro-active
manner in addressing public health.
friend did not survive; that is true. At the same time, even with
the odds against her, she felt that she had a chance at life because
the one thing that she did NOT have to worry about was whether she
could receive quality healthcare.
fifty million other people, if confronted with the same horror,
will not even have a chance.
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of
and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the
crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.