Friday, March 9, 2012

USA: The Struggle for Universal Health Care

By Margaret Flowers
Tikkun Magazine
Winter 2011

Once my eyes were open, I couldn't ignore what was going on. Awareness crept up, starting with a sense that something was wrong. That sense led me to examine the suffering around me -- suffering rooted in the injustice of our health system. I cannot close my eyes on the human toll of corporate domination in this nation.

This is why I devote my time to working for a health system in the United States that meets the human rights principles of universality, equity, and accountability: a single-payer national health insurance. Anything less will prolong suffering and unnecessary death. Every person in this country must have access to the same high-quality standard of health care.

But it goes beyond that. The International Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has the right to reach the highest level of health possible. And so, beyond access to care, we must also insist that every person have a home in an environment that is free of violence and poisons, an education, a job with a living wage, access to clean water, and healthy food that is affordable. Every person must be treated with dignity and respect. This is what we who advocate for health aspire to achieve.

Many will say this is asking for too much. Throughout history, people who sought real social change were told this. The Abolitionists, the Suffragists, and activists in the Civil Rights Movement were all told they were demanding too much, but they didn't accept that criticism and continued on.

This is what my colleagues and I will do. Those of us who work for social and economic justice will persist in our work, not because we believe that we will attain our final goal in our lifetime, but because we must. If we don't do it, then who will?

And so what are the secrets of this work?

First is to know the "why" and to keep that always at the forefront.

Second is to know where I fit in. I do not necessarily expect to succeed in my lifetime. However, I will die knowing that I contributed all that I could to advance humanity in the direction of a healthier society. This movement is greater than me. I am a small part of a continuum of evolution toward the survival of our species.

And third is to work from a place of love -- love for yourself and love for all those around you. Love is constructive. Love is forgiving when you or somebody else makes a mistake. And love is optimistic during even the darkest days.

This is what I have learned and what I want to share with you.

Dr. Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician who serves as the congressional fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program and is on the board of Healthcare-Now. She is one of the "Baucus 8."

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