A Healthy Democracy?

By Chris Meckstroth

Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” What would he have to say about health care in America today?

He’d certainly say that the American health care system is broken. The U.S. government spends more money on health care than countries like France, Germany, and Canada, which have universal coverage, yet we get less for that money than citizens in other developed countries. We have shorter life expectancies, higher infant mortality rates, and equal or higher rates of disease. The distribution of healthcare among Americans is profoundly unequal, and 45 million people in America have no healthcare coverage at all, including 8.4 million children. One in three Americans have been without health coverage sometime in the last two years, and as career paths become less traditional and secure, more and more people with college degrees are finding themselves uninsured, including recent graduates.

Dr. King would also say that this system is patently unjust. People deserve good health care, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, profession, level of education, or anything else. There is nothing new or outlandish about this idea: More than fifty years ago, the International Declaration of Human Rights defined a right to “the health and well-being of [one]self and of [one’s] family, including…medical care.” Yet in America, health coverage remains unequal: Blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be uninsured and Asian Americans about 1.5 times as likely, while Latino Americans are nearly four times as likely as whites to lack coverage. Women, who often shoulder the burden of caring for children who themselves lack coverage, are more likely to lack coverage from their employers than men. On the basic level of physical health, today’s America allows millions to live as second-class citizens. If politicians really care about “moral values,” they should stop worrying about other people’s sexuality and make sure everyone in America has the health coverage they need to live a healthy life.

Finally, Dr. King would say we need to do something about this injustice, and that to do so we need to get organized and force politicians to listen. The radical religious right has done a good job of mobilizing at the grassroots to force their issues on the political agenda. We need to show that at least as many people care about issues like health care, to regain control of the debate and give politicians the support they need to see before they are willing to act. That’s why StandUp! For Progress is kicking off a campaign on campus called “Everybody Needs Health Care;” you can find out more about it on our website, StandUpForProgress.org. America’s lack of adequate health coverage is a national shame, and it has gone on too long. Help us do something about it. StandUp for a healthy democracy!