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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

June 30th, 2010 5:53 PM

It’s About Human Rights, Not the Money

No matter which intellectual or which political candidate or which self-righteous activist from which camp on the right or the left or anywhere in-between says differently, the absolute need to reform and transform our healthcare system still rests in the outing of the human rights violations and the human suffering. Period.

The battle to extend the only truly universal and therefore the only truly just system of care marches on – the health insurance expansion bill just passed by Congress and signed into law does not secure healthcare for all. It’s a bill that protects a financial product – and a defective one at that.

This struggle is about the people. It’s about their bodies and their lives and the people they love.

Some intellectuals will brag and say they’ve moved beyond the need for patient stories and beyond the tear-jerking, horror tales that ooze in ever increasing numbers out from our healthcare system. Some want only to hear the fiscal arguments, as if those who are primarily motivated by money and profit will somehow be in solidarity with anyone else not so motivated.

“Unlike most progressive individuals, I read the conservative manifesto Atlas Shrugged at the age of 14,” writes author Lex Tinker-Sackett, Single Payer Solution: America’s Health Care Cure (Ixaco Press, 2010). “I was raised as an objectivist and fully understand the rhetoric and goals of the conservatives. That is why I purposely left out the heart rending stories of victims of private health insurance and our for profit health care system. They simply do not work.”

Hate to disagree here, but it has been my experience in life that those who are motivated by greed and profit and survival of the fittest mentalities don’t give a damn about anything or anyone but the bottom line – and a very large bottom line at that. If Lex or others think they’ll pull legions of manifesto-reading conservatives or even droves of right leaning policy-makers to support single-payer healthcare by shutting out the stories of patient suffering and selling people on the superior economic potential of single-payer reform, I think he’s dead wrong.

You see, part of the conservative mentality as played out in recent years in this nation goes well beyond fiscal conservatism and stands firmly against all people being equally deserving of the human right to healthcare. I have listened to a good number of conservatives say quite bluntly that they do not wish to work hard to pay for food or housing or schooling or healthcare for anyone else who has not had to work just as hard to “earn” those things. If a child starves or dies or is unable to read or lives in the back seat of a car, that child was not the victim of any systemic failure but of the failure of a parent who just didn’t try hard enough.

Have we ever seen the escalating costs of war move the warmongers from their beliefs in the need to go to battle or bomb or occupy another nation? I must have missed it if we have. The arguments against wars that resonate and reverberate enough to generate significant public pressure against war are those arguments that show the death and the suffering, the torture and inhumanity of it all. People kill people in battle. People die unnecessarily. While the costs of war can be part of an overall strategy to show the futility and the insanity of spending our resources on killing people, the highest costs and the ones that reach into our souls and make us cry out for an end to war are those surrounding loss of human life and loss of human potential.

So as we battle on to secure the basic human right to healthcare in the United States, we must do so with clarity and a singular focus about what is right and what is wrong, what is just and what is not, what is moral and what is immoral. We must, with the people’s voices, demand the same right we signed on to way back in 1948, from Article 25 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” that holds that every human being has the right to health, including health care.

Our word to ourselves and to our world must mean something. We stand to account for our position on human rights else we ought to remove ourselves from those nations that say they believe.

No matter what, ending the people’s suffering still must be the primary reason to transform our system into one that is patient-centered and not profit-centered. If what we are about still remains centered on money and protecting profits, no need to enlist armies of grassroots supporters for that -- let the intellectuals gather and publish their single-payer treatise on economics and let’s see how far we get with that.

At the first U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, I sat in the back of a hot, outdoor tent and listened to the first healthcare truth hearing I had ever attended. People – everyday, work-a-day people – told their stories of healthcare woes in the United States. It was powerful stuff in many ways. From the volume of stories to the depth of pain, each story touched on at least one of the traumas of our brutal, for-profit healthcare nightmare in this nation.

I wrote about a woman who for lack of appropriate dental care had lost nearly all of her teeth and hence her ability to earn a living and finally her home. I wrote a piece on it three years ago, and I still remember her face as clearly as if it were yesterday:

In the years since that 2007 piece, much has happened in the movement to secure a progressively financed, single standard of high quality healthcare for all in the United States.

At this year’s US Social Forum in Detroit, I heard an equally disturbing story of a woman and her young daughter. The child has a serious seizure disorder which is stealing parts of her brain away with each seizure event. Her mother has worked and worked very hard to provide a living and health insurance and proper care for her daughter. But, then the insurance company stopped covering the anti-seizure medications. Faced with either thousands in out-of-pocket costs or allowing her daughter to go without the meds, this mother stood before those assembled and raged her righteous fight. Without her medications, this young girl will eventually have a seizure that will take her ability to breath or think or even for her heart to beat. “I cannot qualify for Medicaid, because I earn too much,” her mother said with anger and passion, “But why should I not be allowed to have my daughter with me on this earth for every moment God will allow?”

The room grew silent. The question, the moral and the ethical and the human rights question stayed before us like a glaring light on our shared agony and disbelief – and a beacon for our work. This mother offered up the economic situation clearly enough. She has insurance; private insurance won’t pay for the meds; she earns too much for Medicaid to cover her daughter’s meds; and unless she quits her job and falls into deeper poverty over the course of weeks or months, her daughter faces death or at the least more debilitating seizures. Clear enough, eh?

But the even clearer picture she painted was of a mother’s outrage at the inhumanity of it all -- the human rights issues infused the moment with its power and solidarity in our shared struggle. Should all of the undoubtedly cogent arguments about cost savings allow this young girl to suffer and die if her mother cannot pay for meds in a civilized society’s healthcare system? Should the child die if we cannot argue to a conservative’s satisfaction that her life’s value is adequate on that ever-critical bottom line? Or are we about something larger and more basic?

It’s about the human rights, folks. It always has been, and it always will be. Healthcare is not a commodity. If we give that up in the argument to gather a few of the right-wingers of the ilk who have read the conservative manifesto, we’ll lose all the mothers who work for their children to have better lives in a nation that says it believes in human rights.

I want the mothers and fathers on my team for single-payer reform. I’ll stand with the patients and loved ones who keep crying out to us all and providing the frame of justice that ultimately will not be denied. Others will have to play the brain games and sit in the chatterbox with the money-changers.

Winston Churchill once asked a woman if she would sleep with him for a million pounds and she coyly hesitated and then accepted. He then asked her if she would sleep with him for 5 pounds. She snapped at him, "Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?"

"Madam" he replied, "We've already established what kind of woman you are. Now we're just dickering about the price."

Healthcare is a basic human right, and when we quibble about how much that’s worth in dollars and cents, we’ve acknowledged we have a price to place on that human right.

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