Isn't Healthcare as Important as Education?
By Timothy Welton Cavanaugh
It is one of the foundational principles of this country that all children have a right to an education. Going back as far as the late eighteenth century, around the time of the drafting of our constitution, public education had been proposed and fought for by such American powerhouses as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. All of them agreed that the costs of providing this social subsidy were easily out weighed by the many benefits of a well informed citizenry.
This very American position is based on the premise that although all men are equal under God they are not all financially, socially and politically equal. And therefore public education must exist to fill the literacy gap so as to give all citizens the opportunity to participation equally in civic life.
So, if all Americans deserve an education provided for by the state to ensure their political access and participation can we not make that same argument about healthcare?
Realistically, what is the value of an education, or even life in a free, democratic society if you are too sickly or disabled to take advantage of them (to get a job, buy a home, raise a family, be politically active, etc.)? If denying a child an education is an act of discrimination against their; race, color, creed, gender, national origin, etc. then isn't denying them access to affordable healthcare also a discriminatory act?
Education is just one realm of American life where anti-discrimination efforts have made headway. It is illegal today to deny a person a job, a loan, the right to purchase goods and services, access to clubs and facilities, etc. based on discriminatory factors. As we all know these legal protections were not always in place.
Isn't it the next logical step that we apply this "true equality" reasoning to healthcare? In fact, it could be argued that the right to healthcare presupposes all others as minimal health is necessary to engage in most other aspects of life.
Although a counter position could be that healthcare is currently available to all who seek it I propose that the current model is fundamentally flawed as it is founded in a private system. This private system with its for-profit nature is inconsistent with the stated "Hippocratic Oath" principles of providing healthcare in the first place.
It was the conclusion of the American powerhouses mentioned earlier as well as many other great thinkers, ancient and contemporary, that the only way to guard all citizens' rights to an education against discrimination was to offer it publicly and although our system is far from perfect it is head-and-shoulders above the discriminatory practices of yesteryear.
The same is true for healthcare; it is better then it was but there is still much work to be done and that work includes nationalization of the system.
The debate about national healthcare is currently taking place and will continue to do so as the state of our current private system is in crisis. But up until now it has focused almost exclusively on the issue of cost, an issue that will become moot once the rampant, free-market mechanism and the influence of insurance policies are taken out of the formula.
I'm thankful for this national debate as clearly it's time has come but I say we need to change it, expand it to include and even emphasize factors like poverty, discrimination and equality. We need an open and honest discussion about what it means for one person, facility or institution to provide healthcare to another.
We need to publicly ask the tough questions like: who should get healthcare, who should be denied it, who get's to make that decision and based on what criteria? Its one thing to hold an opinion silently while you go along your merry way but it's another thing altogether to openly debate it and put it up to public scrutiny.
If, or should I say when as I believe it is inevitable, this quality of debate takes place I'm confident we as a nation, as a people will be surprised at our findings and to the degree to which we are all thinking along the same lines. And when we do, only then will we truly be looking at this issue as a free and open society should.