“After graduating college 10 years ago, I was without health coverage. I developed appendicitis and had to have surgery. It was that or die. I had my student loan debt and accumulated new health care debt. It cost over $14,000 to make sure I did not die from appendicitis. I now have a full-time job with health benefits that I pay for, and I am lucky for that. I can pay my part. We need to provide coverage to everyone. No one should have to second-guess debt in exchange for life.” —David from Cortland
The United States is the only country among other comparable developed nations that still does not provide universal health coverage to its people. Because our representatives do not have the political will to fix this problem, we let the uninsured suffer.
The Affordable Care Act has done so many good things for our healthcare system, from banning discrimination based on preexisting conditions to requiring that insurers cover 10 essential health benefits in all their plans; it has reduced the number of uninsured by about 20 million. But it is not enough. We have not yet arrived at the promised land of equality. We are not even at the doorstep of a just society. We still have 28.2 million people in this country who worry everyday that they might get sick — 28.2 million people who worry they’ll have to make the decision between paying for medicine or paying the rent.
Republican leaders today have failed our country — Graham-Cassidy would have left an additional 15 to 32 million people uninsured, because of what? Because of ideology? Because of belief in small government? Because of dedication to “individual liberty” and freedom from the “oppression of taxation”? Because, perhaps, Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy have their own generous federal health insurance and will never have to “second-guess debt in exchange for life,” like David had to?
I recognize that I’m being partisan here, that Democrats too have a varied history with policies that end up harming people and that, yes, Republicans have indeed pushed for legislation that has benefited our economy. This country would not work without both sides of the aisle. The Benefits Improvement and Protection Act (BIPA), sponsored in the House in 2000 by Republican Bill Thomas from California, “increased Medicare payments to providers and managed health care organizations, reduced certain Medicare beneficiary co-payments and improved Medicare coverage of preventive services.”
The difficult part for me is that the policies most conservatives push for today are often antithetical to my very existence or to the existence of my family, my friends, my community. Just look at the policies that result from their ideology. Trump’s pending DACA repeal has threatened the lives of my friends back home in Los Angeles who are Dreamers, people who are just as damn American as anyone else. Travel ban 2.0 flies in the face of everything we stand for as a country of immigrants.
That is not to say that Republicans and conservatives in general can be encapsulated as a monolith; they have their own factions just like the Democratic party. But the actual policies supported by the Republican leadership are real and dangerous and often detrimental to our country.
When it comes to healthcare, there are legitimate concerns about shifting to a healthcare system that provides universal coverage. There will be tradeoffs. Some of us will have to sacrifice the quality of our personal insurance for better national health outcomes. Some of us will have to wait in longer lines for care in order for care to be given to those who need it the most. All of us will have to pay more in taxes, even if, in the long run, universal healthcare costs taxpayers less.
In return, so many more Americans will be able to get the care they need. It’s a policy debate but also a fundamentally moral question. So we look to our leaders on Capitol Hill for leadership, and what do we find?
We find that the Republican leaders of today are not the Republican leaders of yesterday, like the ones who pushed for BIPA. They have made a Faustian deal with Trump, and we are all now paying the price. Democrats are currently headless, essentially an opposition party to Trump. We have been reactive, not proactive. And I am here to say that we must be proactive in our pursuit of good policy.
We must be proactive when it comes to healthcare. We must be proactive in recognizing our moral obligation to each other as Americans. We must fight, every single day, to make sure that no one ever dies because they were uninsured, that no one ever has to make a choice between life or debt for life. Healthcare is a human right. It’s a moral right. It’s your right, and mine. Instead of killing people with policy, we need to save them. We need to do better, both Republicans and Democrats. As a country, as a people, we need to do better.
Contact Ryan Kang at ryankang ‘at’ stanford.edu.