by Reggie Fullwood
“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow human beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute,” said Thurgood Marshall.
In the 1930s the Great Depression affected every nation on earth – some more than others. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a series of programs called the New Deal that were aimed at stabilizing a struggling economy and getting the country out of its financial rut.
The New Deal’s programs were initiated between 1933 and 1938 and created welfare initiatives for the poor, reformed financial systems and basically tried to light a fire and get the American economy growing again.
The one area that Roosevelt stopped short of was healthcare. His New Deal programs did provide healthcare for the very poor, but insuring that all Americans were covered was an unheard of notion. (Although the first semblance of a universal healthcare system was created in the 1880s. in Germany).
While President Roosevelt didn’t directly initiate a countrywide healthcare program – he laid the foundations for it in the New Deal.
Roosevelt said, “But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens, a substantial part of its whole population, who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.”
He added, “I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day… I see one-third of a nation ill housed, ill clad, ill nourished.”
It is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope, because the Nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern.”
Fast forward today and FDR would be amazed to see the number of uninsured citizens continuing to grow to over 40 million with no relief in site. In Florida alone, if the Republican lead legislature would have agreed to health care expansion a few years back some 1.2 million Floridians would have received health care through “Obamacare.”
It is that same passion for helping those of us with the greatest need, that Roosevelt displayed those influence so many Americans could grasp the notion of supporting universal healthcare.
In fact, Universal health care is provided in most developed countries and in many developing countries. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not provide universal health care.
So I laid a decent foundation to get to this very point. Is healthcare a right? It’s certainly not in our U.S. Constitution, but much like public education should every American be afforded the right to an accessible system of health – especially a primary care physician?
Some on the conservative side of the this debate would say that access to healthcare is not a right, but privilege reserved for those who can afford it. Either your employer pays or you pay out of pocket and that is the bottom line. And if the company you work for doesn’t provide health coverage – too bad so sad.
And most of us know that health care is becoming increasingly unaffordable for businesses and individuals.
The United Kingdom established the National Health Service in 1948 to provide healthcare services for all of its citizens. This system is considered the world’s first universal health care system provided by government.
The German universal program I mentioned earlier was revolutionary at the time, but the government only provided funds to cover one third of a person’s healthcare, while each individual provided the other two thirds.
A system isn’t considered to be true universal health care unless the government provides the benefit to all citizens.
Of course there are pros, cons and many misconceptions about if a universal healthcare system is even feasible here in the United States.
I mentioned earlier, the U.S. being the only industrialized nation not providing health benefits to all citizens should concern us all. But consider this fact – some 28 nations have decided that healthcare is critical to their citizens and have single payer universal health care systems, while Germany uses the multi-payer model.
According to the Connecticut Coalition for Universal Health Care, “The U.S. ranks poorly relative to other industrialized nations in health care despite having the best trained health care providers and best medical infrastructure of any industrialized nation.”
I would venture to guess that if you look at what each city and county is the United States is paying in indigent care that figure alone is enough to partially support a universal health care system.
We know that it’s cheaper for a person to visit his or her primary care physician on a regular basis versus showing up to the emergency room to receive care when a problem has gone untreated.
So is healthcare a right or privilege? Marian Wright Edelman once said, “You really can change the world if you care enough.”
Signing off from the UF Health Emergency Room,