Editor’s Note: Jason Rittereiser is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Washington’s 8th Congressional District, vying to succeed retiring Republican Dave Reichert as a member of Washington’s delegation to the United States House of Representatives. In this guest post, he explains why he believes that our country must have universal, single-payer health coverage.
I believe that access to healthcare in America is a basic human right.
In politics, this is still a matter of debate. But to many Americans, this isn’t an abstract question: it’s a question of life or death for millions of families without access to affordable health insurance. Watching a close friend face this very question was what convinced me we must enact a single-payer system.
A few months before my college roommate was to marry the love of his life, I got a call from Sam expecting to talk about wedding plans.
When I answered, I knew something was wrong.
“I need to tell you something,” he said, and then because there is no good way to break this news, he just said it: “I have a brain tumor, and they think it’s cancer.”
I was at work as a deputy prosecutor for King County. A thousand things raced through my head. I told Sam that everything was going to be fine, even though I didn’t know that, and that I would take care of whatever he needed.
I knew he would need help handling many of his personal affairs going forward, so when I hung up the phone, I began to make a list.
The first thing I wrote down was health insurance — with a big question mark.
Luckily, Sam had health insurance through his job. If Sam didn’t have health insurance or access to quality healthcare, his outcome would have been tragically different. We were able to make some calls and add additional health coverage to mitigate costs, found a neurosurgeon who specializes in Sam’s condition, and after an incredible and determined recovery, Sam is as healthy as ever.
Not everyone is as lucky. Our healthcare system has failed in providing this most basic human right to all. Too often access to care depends on your ability to pay. Even after passing the Patient Protection Act, our fractured health insurance system still puts access to care out of reach, often for those who need it most.
My wife Michelle has seen the failures of our healthcare system play out firsthand as a healthcare provider. With a Masters in Clinical Nutrition and a Certified Diabetes Educator, she started her career in community health, treating many patients who can’t afford health insurance. Her patients often required costly treatment because they did not have access to preventative care.
Consequently, they had minor conditions snowball into major health problems. These people had a far worse experience navigating our healthcare system than Sam did, for the sole reason that they just didn’t make enough money.
I believe that’s wrong.
We need a healthcare system that unites us in our core belief that no one should go broke because they get sick, and no one should die because they can’t afford care.
Every day, we make a choice in America to provide healthcare in the least efficient and most costly way possible simply because our elected representatives have politicized healthcare. We’re already paying for everyone to receive care by mandating that hospitals treat every patient regardless of their ability to pay.
This floods our ERs, inflates the cost of care for everyone who can pay, and ruins the credit of anyone who can’t. To fix healthcare, we must address access and costs and the most efficient and effective way to do that is a single-payer system.
Contrary to the political narrative I hear from my right wing friends, providing healthcare for everybody is not something to fear.
Getting sick and not having the care you need is, and so is having to decide between paying a medical bill or your rent.
Today, our neighbors rely on crowdfunding rather than health insurance to make ends meet if they get sick.
GoFundMe even advertises its platform as “#1 for Health Insurance Fundraising.” On that site alone, there are 1.3 million people in America raising money from friends to pay for cancer treatments, 54,000 people waiting on donations in order to pay for transplant surgery, and 32,000 asking for money so they can treat their diabetes. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In the wealthiest nation in the world, we have more than enough resources to guarantee quality and affordable healthcare for every person in America.
It’s time we invest on the front end of our healthcare system. No one should be denied access to quality and affordable healthcare because of how much money you make, where you work, or where you live.
In America we have a rich history of solving the world’s most complex problems, but we have fallen behind on healthcare. I refuse to accept a system that does not provide everyone the same life-saving care that my friend Sam received.
It’s time we finish the job, enact a single-payer system, and guarantee healthcare to everybody in this country, and it’s time for a new generation to lead the way.