There is nothing that says “economic disparity” and “social injustice” better than the state of health care in this country. While Occupiers are out in the streets denouncing banks and the prison-industrial complex an evil as great or greater at the heart of society continues almost unabated.
Nowhere else among the industrialized nations on this planet can someone go bankrupt because he or she or his or her children get sick. Nowhere else is someone denied care because of their economic status. Every first-world country has decided that access to health care is a fundamental right, except one. The United States, in its ignorant stubbornness, continues to believe in a myth of individual responsibility when it comes to contracting cancer or having a child born with a birth defect. And even so it spends far more per capita for less health care.
Access to and affordability of health care cuts across the entire ninety-nine percent. The unemployed and those with jobs without benefits cannot possibility afford to pay for health insurance. The self-employed that might be able to are denied coverage at the drop of a hat because of “pre-existing conditions.” Those with health insurance benefits from employers find themselves being asked to pay a higher and higher percentage of the cost for coverage whose quality declines year by year. Health care benefits have become one of, if not the, major sticking point in labor union contract negotiations. Even our elders are not immune; our one-percenter overlords speak darkly about the rising costs of Medicare and how <s>the old should die</s> such costs must be curbed.
Some of these wrongs will be mitigated to some extent by the PPACA — the health care law passed in 2010 whose major provisions are only scheduled to go into effect in 2014 — that is, if it is not repealed or declared unconstitutional in the interim.
But the fundamental incongruity of the health care system in America is not going away. Private, for profit health insurance companies (whose benefits accrue to the one percent) have as an overriding perverse incentive that it is better to kill you off if you get seriously ill than to help you. Once anyone gets seriously ill, the odds are that an insurance company will pay out far, far more in future benefits than the premiums they will take in. That the corporate entity desires that you “die quickly” should come as no surprise, even if no executive would ever admit it.
Other countries have all but eliminated this problem. Either through socialized health services (the United Kingdom), single payer systems with no insurance companies and privatized health providers (Canada), or highly regulated non-profit insurance companies that act solely as administrative agents (Germany, Switzerland).
Occupiers have concentrated on the direct threats that repression of first amendment rights, foreclosures, too-big-to-fail banks, the prison-industrial complex, the siphoning off of America’s wealth by the one percent, and decisions like <i>Citizens’ United<i> pose to our society. It’s easier to shut down a bank branch or call for a constitutional amendment that it is to do something about the state of health care in the United States. Not a criticism, just a fact.
But make no mistake about it. There can be “no (economic) justice, no peace (of mind),” until every parent with a sick child or spouse need not worry about whether medical care is available; need not gnash their teeth over possible economic ruin; need not curse the preventable death of a loved one. Whether or not total revolution is possible or desirable, a revolution in how our nation thinks about society’s responsibility to provide what Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights says is a
… right to … medicare care
must happen at some point. If Occupiers become concerned, they can help make that revolution happen just as, in a few short months, they have caused a revolution in awareness of other forms of economic and social injustice.