Monday, June 1, 2009

Health care for all

On Saturday afternoon, May 30, I went down to City Hall to attend the rally sponsored by Healthcare for All Texans. I heard that mayor-elect, Lee Leffingwell and councilmember, Mike Martinez spoke just before I arrived, and it's encouraging that they support a Single Payer plan. Several other speakers were health care professionals who support a Single Payer system based on their work experience.
I was disappointed that the rally wasn't mentioned in yesterday's Austin American-Statesman. Although Single Payer plans are successful elsewhere in the world, US insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies are exerting their influence to deny consideration of HR 676/S703.

The main refrain from speakers at the rally: universal health care is a universal right. There were a few people who stood along Cesar Chavez St. with opposing messages. One man's sign read, "Health care is NOT a right." Some rally attendees engaged these folks in discussion to try to figure out what they meant by that. A friend of mine who talked with them said that they didn't mean that people who are sick should not be cared for, but they didn't think others should have to pay for it. But on the question of who would pay, they weren't clear. They mentioned they were tea-partiers on April 15, when, as covered in this blog, I and others offered a different message at the post office that evening: money for health care could easily be found in the war budget. It's a matter of priorities.

There will always be difficult ethical questions when it comes to health care- such as when personal health habits impact health care costs. But, it does help to examine some examples before us. We in the US have come to agree that veterans should be given health benefits even after their service is over (although it wasn't always like that, and veterans and their families had to work very hard - and often still do - to gain their right to health care.) We've come to agree that the elderly and differently abled people have a right to health care. And that people with no money to pay aren't turned away. Our general trajectory over time has been to expand care, not constrict it. So, let's continue in that direction and make it universal. Drawing lines between who is and isn't eligible is proving unworkable.

"I've got mine" is an attitude that prevents many from speaking out on the subject of universal health care coverage.
But the speakers at the rally, most of whom are insured, I gathered from those I talked to, were taking the time to advocate for health care as a human right for all. "As long as we have air in our lungs, we have a voice," said one of the representatives of Healthcare for All Texans. As though to prove her point, a nurse who followed her on stage breathed from an oxygen tank that she carried on her back as she spoke movingly about her patients as well as her own health situation.
The rally included music, as rallies in Austin must do. The very tasteful 3-piece guy band, Voyces, kept things lively with some 60's numbers, including some Bob Dylan. Hearing the lines, "How does it feel -- to be on your own?" took on extra meaning as we considered the issue of the day.

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