Universal Healthcare Isn’t Just a Human Right—It’s Freedom

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Healthcare is a human right; among leftists, there is no question. But even while a majority of America believes that the government is responsible for providing some form of healthcare … Read more

Healthcare is a human right; among leftists, there is no question. But even while a majority of America believes that the government is responsible for providing some form of healthcare for its citizens, there are still a lot of people we need to convince before single-payer becomes the kind of issue for which politicians could lose their jobs were they to decide not to support it.

So, how do we tip the scales? I believe it’s not enough to tell people that healthcare is a human right. We must tie single-payer to the concept of freedom and liberation.

Let me explain with a personal anecdote: My wife, my daughter, and I moved from Arizona to Washington in 2014. She was several months pregnant at the time and I had just graduated from college. The plan was that we’d move up here, live with her parents in Everett for a few months, I’d find work, and my wife would give birth under the insurance my job would provide or through the Affordable Care Act, whichever came first.

Things didn’t go according to plan.

About halfway through our two-day road trip, my wife complained of terrible pains. We eventually found ourselves in a hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, where the doctors diagnosed her with a life-threatening pregnancy condition called HeLLP Syndrome. We were lucky we’d caught it early, because she had to be flown to Boise right away or I could lose both of them. We would likely have our son before the night was over, 10 weeks before his due date.

Now, I’m juggling two completely different but equally frightening thoughts in my mind. I’m scared out of my mind for the safety of my wife and unborn child, but I’m also equally scared for how the hell we’re going to pay for 1) a helicopter ride, 2) 10 weeks of intensive care plus whatever additional aftercare/pharmaceuticals we’d need for my wife and my son, 3) living arrangements and food and gas and on and on and on. We had no money, no job prospects, and no place to stay in a town we’d never even visited before. We were screwed.

Thankfully, an extremely helpful social worker at the hospital was able to get us signed up for Medicaid, and the cost of our medical bills were virtually negligible. It was like a crushing weight had been lifted off our chests.

This is what freedom looks like. I didn’t have to stress about how I was going to pay for my family’s treatment. All I had to do was be there for my wife and kids. When we eventually arrived in Everett two months later, I didn’t have thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills hanging like an albatross around my neck. We could actually get started in a brand new city without anything weighing us down.

I eventually found enough freelance work that lead to a steady gig, and I signed my family up for insurance through the ACA, which meant figuring out the difference between a Silver and Gold plan and trying to decipher the fine print. A few years later, now finally settled in Everett, I eventually found a better job with an increase in salary. Great news, right? Here’s the kicker: even though I’m still well under what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers low-income for a family of four in Snohomish County (we’re a single-income household, in case you were wondering), thanks to the way the ACA was legislated, I now have to pay hundreds of dollars more a month for worse coverage than I did at my last job.

Now I’m worried again. If something bad happens to one of us, are we going to be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars we can’t afford? Will our insurance decide not to cover a procedure on a whim? I honestly couldn’t tell you. It’s a fear that looms large over our lives, and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before we have to roll the dice again.

This is why it’s so important for those of us on the left to explain why single-payer healthcare is equivocal to the kind of freedom every human being living in the United States deserves. We can’t just tell people healthcare is a right; we need to talk about the ways that single-payer healthcare can give them the freedom we’re all desperately seeking.

Freedom means not being forced to choose between going bankrupt from accepting life-saving care or death.

Freedom means not having to undergo a popularity contest on Gofundme just to pay for an emergency procedure.

Freedom means not having to spend what little time off from work you have navigating a Byzantine maze of co-pays and deductibles on a half-functioning website, wondering whether that precious chunk of your paycheck each month will actually cover what you need when you desperately need it.

Freedom means having the ability to leave a toxic job or relationship, or take a risk on a new venture, or survive a layoff without worrying if you’re going to have to leave your healthcare behind.

And freedom — true, honest-to-God liberation — means that no matter who you are or where you are in the United States, you’re going to receive the same quality of health, mental, vision, or dental care you’d receive anywhere else – and you won’t have to pay a dime at the point of care.

This, among many other reasons, is why I’m a socialist, and it’s why I’m fighting with the DSA to make universal healthcare a reality. I firmly believe that Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill would materially and fundamentally improve the lives of millions of people without means-testing or any other strings attached, and would give each and every one of us the kind of freedom we all dream about. What could possibly be more American than that?

David Roberts is a writer in Everett, WA and member of the newly-forming Everett DSA Organizing Committee.

Everett DSA visited the local offices of both Senators Cantwell and Murray this past Monday, as well as that of Representative Rick Larsen, to demand support of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill. Seattle DSA’s own visit is happening Wednesday, the 15th.


Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.

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