Healthcare: A Right, Not A Privilege
Hearing of Ted Kennedy’s passing late last night (10:30pm Pacific) I thought about the fact that he has been a Senator my entire life and it felt as though a door had been closed. I have always followed politics intently, even as a little girl. When I was five, I used to listen to a record album I had of John F. Kennedy’s speeches; I loved the cadence in the delivery of his words. And I recall being glued to the television watching the Watergate hearings the summer of 1973 with my Aunt Helen – I was nine-years-old. A year later, I remember feeling sad for President Nixon as I watched his televised farewell to his staff, after resigning from office. Likewise, I cannot think of a time when Senator Kennedy was not a powerful voice in politics and on important issues of my time. Whether I agreed with him or not, I respected his passion, his idealism, and his grief.
Although I belong to neither party, I have always been an independent-minded person finding equally stupid and brilliant ideas on both sides of the political coin, this is not to say that I am not a person of principle and of strong opinions, it is just that my thinking does not neatly fall into anyone’s box. I espouse ideas that I think are fair and just for all, and in the best interests of our country. One of those ideas, about which I have always felt strongly, is that healthcare should be available to all, in the same way that police and fire protection is available. You should not have to be wealthy to have the police protect you, or the firefighters put out a fire in your home, or to get medical care when you are ill.
“America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” (Walter Cronkite)
Senator Kennedy, in a speech in 1978, said that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. In fact, healthcare reform is an ideal he articulated, in one form or another, since he first ran for his brother’s office as Senator from Massachusetts in 1962. During that 1962 special election he said, “I vigorously support a health-care program for our senior citizens…” (Time Magazine Article 1962) He must have been gratified when in 1965 the Social Security Act was signed providing Medicare to those 65 and older. But Senator Kennedy knew that there were millions of Americans unable to afford healthcare for themselves and their families and more needed to be done. He wrote about it in his book, In Critical Condition: The Crisis in America’s Health Care (1972).
“Every American should have the opportunity to receive… healthcare that does not condemn those whose health is impaired to a lifetime of poverty and lost oppotunity.” (http://tedkennedy.org/)
Today’s reality is that if you are wealthy you can buy whatever healthcare you want or need for yourself and your family. If your wife gets cancer, you don’t need to lose your home in order to pay for her chemotherapy. If your child needs a kidney transplant, you are not at the mercy of a health insurance company administrator who deems that operation “experimental” and therefore not approved. In a country such as ours, a beacon in the world for freedom and opportunity for all, you would think that providing medical care would be a fundamental right for all of our citizens, not just those with the means.
Nothing exemplifies more concretely the widespread lack of healthcare and the enormous need for it, than the events reported a couple of weeks ago, in Los Angeles, when people traveled hours, camped overnight, and waited in extremely long lines to get free medical and dental care from the Remote Area Medical Foundation (RAM) mobile medical clinic, which came to Inglewood for eight days. The need was so great that the bus services had to be extended because of overwhelming demand for rides to the clinic. (L.A. Times Article August 12, 2009)
Founded in 1985, by the co-host of the television series Wild Kingdom, Stan Brock, this all-volunteer RAM mobile medical clinic, was originally created to provide free medical, dental, and veterinarian attention to remote areas in third world countries. However, due to the overwhelming requests Mr. Brock received from many rural and urban areas in the United States, RAM, early on, began providing free mobile medical care in this country, as well. The Remote Area Medical mobile clinic, never charges the patients for anything, and is always seeking the donated services of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals and technicians.
Unfortunately, even after the RAM clinic spends days at any given location in the United States, the demand is so great for medical care that thousands of Americans need to be turned away. Many who are seen at the clinic require routine care, but many others discover that they have chronic conditions that require additional or ongoing medical treatment, which they, of course, cannot afford due to lack of health insurance and will not be able to get because they now have a “pre-existing” condition.
Surely, as a country we can do better than this. I think Senator Kennedy would have agreed.
[NOTE: To find and write to your Congressional Representative, go to: Write Your Representative - U.S. House of Representatives Website. And to find and write to your Senator, go to: Senators - U.S. Senate Website.]
Martie Hevia (c) 2009 – All Rights Reserved