Over the years, I have participated in several celebrations for Medicare’s birthday. Sometimes there’s cake, always a meeting or gathering of some sort, nonetheless usually something festive, educational and action oriented. Don’t know if it’s because it’s an election year, or the recent Supreme court ruling on the A.C.A., but I feel a bit differently about the anniversary this year.
Like millions of other people, I’ve been looking forward to watching the 2012 Olympic Games. The perseverance of human spirit, triumph over adversity, the glory of teamwork, those are some reasons I enjoy watching (well, that and rhythmic gymnastics). Every few years the whole world celebrates the best of the best. We cheer for the passionate athletes who have made tremendous personal sacrifice, often dedicating a majority of their life to this competition. Their courage and commitment to excellence serve as inspiration to us all. So while tuning into the opening ceremony last Friday night, awaiting the next pyrotechnic display or engineering marvel, I was absolutely taken by surprise when hundreds of white beds started rolling out of the shadows, and nurses and doctors wearing period costumes pushing kids on metal framed hospital beds appeared on center stage spelling “NHS” in big bright lights– only to learn that these volunteers were actual nurses and doctors in the National Health Service! This was unbelievable to me– that a country could be so proud of their healthcare system, the powers that be felt it spotlight worthy as they welcomed the world to London & introduced the British people and their culture onto, for that moment, the greatest stage in the world.
After the initial awe wore off, I became very emotional and started thinking about what it would be like here, if we had a N.H.S. that served everybody? (I only say this because we do have a version of socialized medicine, it’s called the V.A.). Because when I think about the healthcare system that “serves” the majority of people here, the dominating emotion I experience is shame. It’s shameful that 50 million of our people lack health insurance. It’s shameful that over half of all bankruptcies in this country are due to medical debt, but the biggest disgrace is that a minimum of 45,000 people a year lose their lives for the simple fact they did not have health insurance. Not exactly something I want to sing from the mountain top and declare to the world– but more like a dirty secret to be kept locked away in a deep, dark closet so no one could ever find out– except the secret’s already out. The world is watching, and mostly with disgust that the wealthiest nation in the world regards the human right to health as a commodity, and we turn our backs on our people when they get sick and need help. We are leaving millions behind, excluding and punishing the most vulnerable in our society to fend for themselves and allowing them to suffer in silence. Can someone please tell me when treating human beings like this became the “American way”?
While the Supremes did just confirm the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which contains some positive aspects, including providing no-cost preventative care for women, (who already have insurance) we can do better. By removing the private insurance companies’ stranglehold on the American people and eliminating profit motives, we can focus on the provision of actual healthcare, and promote wellness. We can improve upon our nation’s already existing single payer model– Medicare, and expand it to include everyone. Let’s go for the gold here, people! That’s why Medicare was enacted in 1965 in the first place, to set a standard and lift seniors up out of poverty, to create a more just and egalitarian society– one which looks after people, observes the human right to health, and regards life with respect and dignity. Now that’s something worth celebrating, that is something worthy of brilliant fireworks, a sassy new-wave dance number & Sir Paul McCartney!
As I join fellow activists this Thursday to blow out candles for Medicare’s 47th, my wish will be that our country can establish Medicare for all– that my friends will truly be a proud day for America. Because in the end, we’re all just people trying to survive and do our best. We all come into this world and leave it the same way. Can’t we just be a little kinder to each other in the short time we’re here?