Health Care: A Human Right

Health Care is an Economic Human Right

To learn more about Health Care as a Human Right Defined, click here.

Last November, the Women’s Economic Agenda Project had an opportunity to attend the Health Care Now! Strategy Conference in St. Louis. WEAP brought along three activists from ally organizations to participate in the lectures and work shops about pushing the movement for health care for all forward. The following pieces are their thoughts about and inspired by the conference.

For a brief conference summary and video of WEAP Executive Director Ethel Long-Scotts lecture, please visit our events page.

With Our Education And Organizing We Will Get The He
alth Care We Need!
By Tracie Rice-Bailey

My name is Tracie Rice-Bailey. I am an outreach/inreach advocate for the poor and homeless. I am also a member of SafeGround Sacramento, a movement for and by the homeless to find a place free from police harassment, where we can live and reclaim our lives. I am also a member of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee (SHOC).

Recently, I attended the “Health Care Now” conference in St. Louis, MO as a part of the California Poor People’s Economic Human Right’s Delegation. The conference was about our nation’s current health care system, and the fact this for-profit model does not provide health care for every American. The conference confirmed my long-held belief that ‘quality health care’ and the ‘profit model’ do not mix – how can they?

There were at least a dozen powerful and moving speakers discussing out nation’s flawed health care system. The most inspiring speech was given by Ethel Long-Scott, Executive Director of the Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP), which received the only standing ovation of the conference. The conference held workshops, including one hosted by WEAP covering their numerous organizing tools such as ‘Teach-In’  and Leadership Training programs in Oakland.  While I have had first hand experience with the medical crisis in America it was through these Teach-Ins that I first became involved with the health reform movement.

The WEAP workshop put a face on the medical crises in our country by sharing stories of our current health care system. I shared my own story of finding Helen, an injured homeless woman, with a new walker, under the Interstate 5 bridge the same day she was released from the hospital after being hit by a motorcycle rider who died in the accident. She had been in the hospital in a coma and was very weak when I found her.

I also shared my story about the care I was given after being shot in a laundry mat. Initially, doctors were not going to operate at first, because the bullet was in a spot that could kill me or cause a severe stroke during surgery. Two days later I underwent the surgery. I was in the hospital for just five days before I returned home to an abandoned house. I now had a $180,000 hospital bill and another $70,000 ambulance bill. I had no insurance, so I never went back to the doctor even though my face was half paralyzed and I suffered severe nerve damage. I had to take out my own stitches and had to exercise my face until it regained movement. I still suffer severe nerve damage from the lack of proper health care at the time.

Take a look at the recent news. Suddenly, we are being conditioned to believe pap smears for women should be done every other year rather than the previous yearly recommendation. We are being told mammograms are not that important for women under forty. What the hell is going on? Is this a cost saving measure or a safety measure? What are we going to accept as the norm?

In one news cast I heard these guidelines may result in more women dying of breast cancer every year. On a later news cast the same day, these new guidelines have been labeled a ‘death sentence’ to thousands of American women. This is nothing short of obscene.

How can anyone promise and deliver quality health care and make a profit at the same time? When it comes to human life, the profit factor, the corporate greed of insurance companies, must end. It is the only way to ensure everyone has access to necessary quality health care.

The current ‘Public Option’ legislation is not an option.

Are we going to accept health care that is even less than what we have now? Our health care system is not the best in the world. Not only do we have many medical bankruptcies in this country, but we have poor people routinely released from hospitals after major trauma, released under bridges or on the sides of freeways – all of this because of our ‘for profit’ health care system.
We need a system that covers every single person on American soil. Just because a person is not born here, should not mean they should die here because our flawed government allows insurance companies to decide who gets treated and who gets ignored. I know many people who have been referred for treatment by a doctor and still cannot get treatment because the procedure is not approved by their insurance company. Is this a doctor denying the procedure, or is it an agent working for the insurance company? Who really has control over our health care?

With the current medical system, millions of Americans are not covered. Others with current health problems are denied health care insurance coverage or are losing what health care insurance they do have, simply because it is not profitable for the insurance company to keep them healthy.

The most important thing I came away from the conference with is this: We need a Single Payer Health Care system that will provide quality health care to every person in America – every person, not just some, but ALL. Health Care is a human right!

One of the most amazing people I had the honor to meet was an eight year old young man named Martin. This youngster actually took comprehensive notes during the conference and said he wanted to start a kids’ chapter this year and represent them at next year’s conference. I am looking forward to see this child’s involvement and youth participation next year, and for many years to come.

Tracie Rice-Bailey is a homeless advocate and activist for Safe Ground Sacramento.
A Young Person’s Letter to Congress

By Sarah Harris

Dear President Obama, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives,

My question to you is about the current health care legislation: how is it going to benefit me and those in similar situations to mine? I am 28 years old. I have dedicated my life to our young people and my community (over nine years of experience already) and will be starting a teaching credential and Masters in Education program this summer. Because I can make more money doing private childcare than working as a teacher’s aide or substitute, that is what I am doing for income this year. I do not have health care because it is not provided through my employer. A year ago, when I was transitioning between public school jobs, I applied for a basic health care plan and also an “only in case of a catastrophe” health care plan from both Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield of California. I was denied coverage for the basic plan by both companies because of my pre-existing conditions. I come from a family with a history of various emotional disorders and mild to severe digestive dysfunction. I’ve sought medical advice (and sometimes received treatment) for depression, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (what Western medicine calls any digestive condition they can’t diagnose), and scoliosis. Both companies then offered me high premium “catastrophe” plans ($400 each month) which I could never afford.

I am just barely making ends meet with my childcare work, as are many of my friends who are self-employed or employed part-time – the non-traditional work force that does not receive health care from their employers. (They are artists, musicians, music industry people, non-profit workers, journalists, and educators who have been fortunate enough to be able to continue to create their own income, despite the harsh economic climate.) With the individual mandate, the legislation will penalize all of us and make our situations worse than they are now. Our health care now comes mostly from preventative medicine and an occasional trip to the free/low-income clinic when absolutely necessary. (Though it is not unusual to get an email about a medical-fee party to raise money for someone who was in a horrible car accident or for someone who needs a kidney transplant.) We will be required by law to pay high monthly or annual premiums to the for-profit insurance companies that previously denied us health care. This will push us (people who are doing nothing but contributing positively to our communities) into poverty – and we will all be forced to apply for the public option (overloading that system.) Yes, the current bill will help a small number of our community members, but it will make it worse for more of them. The media has completely confused most of my peers (and the general public) with its mixed messages about the health care bill, so they think that it will help them when it will actually harm them. So please explain to me, how will the current health care legislation benefit us?

I would not be writing this letter were it not for Ethel Long-Scott, the Executive Director of the Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP), which is located in my city of Oakland, California. Because of my leadership role in the international grassroots organization Hip Hop Congress and my previous attendance of WEAP’s “Health Care is a Human Right” teach-ins, Ethel invited me to attend the Health Care NOW National Strategy Conference in St. Louis, Missouri and participate on a panel, representing the community I described above. I was one of about 10 to 15 people there who were under the age of 40. (There were about 125 people in attendance overall.) There was a serious lack of racial diversity, especially with the disproportionate impact of our failing health care system on people of color. (Though I do believe there was a wide range of incomes represented in the participants.) While I am not a person of color, many of my friends are. The Hip Hop community bridges all of the divides between race, nationality, social class, education level, and age. It was apparent that my presence and voice at the conference had significant importance. Issues around health care are nothing new to me, but this was the first time I had a platform to speak about my experiences and those of my peers and community. It was a very powerful experience. This is where I gained the knowledge of the truth about the current health care legislation, and it has led me to use my voice once again and ask you: how will this bill really benefit my friends, my community, and me?

In her own panel remarks at the conference, Ethel continually spoke about what our actions and beliefs would be “going forward” from the gathering. She spoke so articulately and passionately that she reminded me of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and received a standing ovation. So I say this to you, going forward, will you please throw away the current legislation, start again, and put the health of the American people over that of the for-profit health care industry? If you do not, then the people will make it happen themselves. While the organizing actions I can initiate and participate in are limited because of my own health conditions, I will do what I can. Ethel and I have already discussed holding Health Care trainings for some of our local and regional Hip Hop Congress chapters. I am looking into holding health care workshops at our regional and national Hip Hop Congress conferences to make the truth be known about the state of our health care system and its contrast to that of other industrial and/or capitalist countries.

As a demonstration of how the for-profit nature of U.S. health care affects all of us, I’d like to start a visual, sticker campaign, similar to that of the gold and silver star campaign during World War II. If someone had a loved one in the war, they would put a silver star in their window, and if they had lost a loved one in the war, they would put a gold star in the window. For health care, it could be if you have been denied health care or received inadequate health care, you put a green sticker in your window. If you have lost a loved one because of denial of health care or inadequate health care, you put a blue one in your window. Mr. President, Senators, and Representatives, are you going to wait to change our health care system until every single U.S. citizen has a sticker hanging in their window? Until every U.S. citizen knows that we have one of the highest infant mortality rates of all developed nations most likely because of our lack of health care for mothers and prenatal care? And even then will you stand up to the corporations and put us first? I really hope you do not wait for the situation to get worse. Please, please, rewrite the bill (and our future that it holds) so that you can truthfully say it will improve life for my community, for my friends, and for me. Do not let this opportunity pass you by to make U.S. history – put the needs of all Americans before the profits of the corporations. Health care is a human right, not a privilege.


Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris is a board member and representative of Hip Hop Congress, a youth advocate, and a powerful voice in her community. WEAP recently provided Sarah and four other delegates an opportunity to join the Health Care Now Strategy Conference in St. Louis, MO as representatives of their community and organizations.

The Heart of the Matter
By Mary Quintin

“You’ve gotta have heart, miles and miles of heart,” so the song goes. Perhaps we just need a change of heart. Not long ago I was on a flight back to San Jose from a health care conference. I was talking with a retired postal worker sitting next to me regarding the state of the country’s health care (or lack of). She told me that she had to have surgery on her knee. With Medicaid and other insurance she thought she would be OK, even though the bills were still coming in. I told her that health care was a human right, one of many that are denied the poor of this country. She said she had worked hard for her benefits, and if others wanted the same, they should get a job. When I reminded her of the unemployment figures, layoffs and cutbacks, she said to “blame it on the President”.

Indifference to our fellow human beings has become an epidemic! Would Jesus deny an undocumented worker dialysis because of inability to pay or lack of insurance?  It is by HIS stripes that we are healed, no matter how that healing comes about. Most us have kept ourselves separate from the needy and downtrodden of society, and placed the blame for their situation back on them. Now all you have to do is look next door. Behind almost every “For Sale” sign is a story, and most likely a sad one.

So what is to be done? It is time for a heart transplant. Being to be our brother’s keeper is not just a theory to ponder, but a call to action. Only God can change the world, but he is waiting on us. We are the extended arms of Jesus, and he gave us a voice. It is our duty to reach out to those like the woman I met on the plane. We need to let them know that what happens to others can indeed happen to us. We make the world better for us by making it better for others.

How do we do this? With truth, boldness and love. Our past passive behavior is not an option. We cannot depend on someone else or a group or government to bring about change. If we speak the truth, and make people hear us, we can plant seeds for tomorrow. But it all starts with a change of heart.

Mary Quintin is a member of the Christian Homeless Alliance Ministry (CHAM) in San Jose. CHAM is committed to empowering and advocating for the homeless, as well as opening the hearts and minds of the community towards homelessness. CHAM is also an affiliate of thePoor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

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