Opinion

Women Are Setting the Health Care Agenda

Our country is in a moral crisis — and it extends to money and health care. No issue so baldly exposes the hollowness of public proclamations of democracy, freedom and justice than when people die because they cannot afford health care.

In a country that has long claimed to be a leader in human rights, the United States is the only developed country to callously deny millions of its people access to affordable health care.

“The United States must move toward a ‘Medicare for all’ single-payer system,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has declared. “Health care is a right, not a privilege.”

As the 2020 Democratic presidential primary season kicks off, the question of health care policy has taken center stage, because so many Americans remain uninsured and underinsured. There are about 29 million people in the United States who lack health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Medicare for all” will provide all individuals residing in the United States with free world-class health care. The question is who among this assortment of candidates will commit to supporting “Medicare for all” — a single-payer plan with no financial barriers to care for the patient.

A new generation of activist-lawmakers, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), is demanding radical change to the health care system. Later this month, Jayapal will introduce a bill called the Medicare for All Act of 2019, which has about 100 co-sponsors and growing.

Jayapal’s bill would provide guaranteed health care for all people in the United States. That means no out-of-pocket costs, no copays and no deductibles for preventive care and inpatient and outpatient care. Under her plan, dental, vision, hearing, mental health, substance abuse treatment, women’s reproductive health services, long-term services and support, and prescription drugs would all be covered for taxpayers.

The current health care system prioritizes profit, not patient health. In the third quarter of 2018, about 120 publicly traded health care companies reaped about $51 billion in profits on revenues of $660 billion, according to documents cited by Axios. In 2018, top-earning health care industry chief executives took home a cumulative $1.7 billion in compensation.

“Billionaires who say #MedicareForAll is ‘un-American’ need to check themselves,” Jayapal said recently. “Here’s what’s un-American: Treating healthcare as a commodity for the privileged few. The 3 richest Americans having more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country.”

The new social movements led by women, people of color and climate change activists — people long denied a voice, a say, and access to power — are transforming the political landscape.

In 2018, the American people elected a record number of women to Congress in a wave of fury against the Trump administration’s oppressive policies, which target women, children, racial minorities and families.

This administration’s blatant disregard for human life stands exposed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s brutal separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border — a discriminatory policy aimed at people of color. President Donald Trump and his handpicked judicial nominees are a threat to long-settled health protections for women.

One of Trump’s most egregious attacks on working people was the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which has failed to deliver his promised tax relief and jobs to ordinary Americans. Instead, Trump’s tax scam enriches billionaires and corporations that the new law allows to pay less taxes and reap higher profits.

We’ve had enough. Women are setting the agenda. In its first month, the freshman class of legislators has moved the Overton window on a whole spectrum of progressive policy ideas particularly relating to income and wealth inequality. These new representatives, including indigenous women, black women and Latinas, are already making history.

And here’s what’s true for all of us: We can’t be bought, and we won’t be stopped.

Winning office is just the first step. This is why the Women’s March, which two years ago inspired 5 million women to transform the world, has now released a comprehensive policy agenda that serves as a road map for progressive political change.

On the eve before the third-annual Women’s March, health care activists from the Women’s March national network spent the day lobbying their members of Congress to support radical change to the system. And more are listening.

Now is not a time for half measures. This is the moment to fight and win “Medicare for all” legislation.

The American health care system is broken. We pay twice as much as Canadians and Europeans do for inferior care. Moving forward, Americans must demand that Congress fight the villainous pharma CEOs, health care industry lobbyists and corrupt speculators on Wall Street who seek to profit from pain.

The Women’s March and our 2 million members will be on the frontlines of this battle.

 

Winnie Wong is a political activist and senior adviser and National Steering Committee member of the National Women’s March.

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