by Madeleine Kando
I have tried to understand why so many Americans are against health care reform. To me, a country without universal health care is not a civilized country, it is a barbaric country. Is America a barbaric country? Maybe one has to go way back in history to understand why America is so reluctant to provide this most basic of human right to its citizens.
Germany was one of the first western European countries to provide compulsory sickness insurance back in 1883. Austria, Hungary, Norway, Britain, Russia, and the Netherlands followed suit. In the early 20th century Sweden, Denmark, France and Switzerland also adopted universal health care. The primary reason for these early programs was protection against wage loss due to sickness rather than payment for medical expenses.
Ironically, in Britain and Germany the sickness insurance programs were developed by conservative governments to counter the expansion of the socialist and labor parties. They used sickness insurance as a way of 'turning benevolence to power'.
At that time, the working class in the US was against universal health care because they thought that a government-based insurance system would weaken unions by providing social benefits. They wanted to maintain union strength. During World War I and afterwards, compulsory health insurance was successfully associated with Communism by its opponents and it lost momentum.
During the Great Depression, although it was an ideal time to pass compulsory health insurance, priority went to unemployment insurance. FDR was afraid that the Social Security legislation would not pass if it included health insurance.
Truman was the first president who fully supported a single payer health insurance plan, but Congress was against it and so was the AMA. In fact, the American Medical Association has always been against health care reform and in those days it was very successful at linking it to socialism and Communism.
In 1958, Rhode Island Congressman Aime Forand proposed to cover hospital costs for the aged on social security. For the first time in health care reform history, there was large grass roots support for reform. As usual, the AMA tried to stop it by offering its own version of 'elderly care', but the government expanded its proposal by covering physician services as well. This became Medicare and Medicaid. It clearly shows that if a large group of citizens wants something done, it will put enough pressure on politicians to make it happen. **
After the horrors and human rights abuses of the Second World War the International Bill of Human Rights was signed by the United Nations. It represented the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled. It includes the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 12 of the Covenant, the 'Right to Health', states that Governments must protect this right by providing a comprehensive system of healthcare, which is available to everyone without discrimination.
Of the 167 countries that signed the Covenant only seven didn't ratify it. The United States is one of them. The Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations did not see this Covenant as rights but merely as social goals. Even though the Clinton Administration did see these rights as basic human rights, it did not fight Congress over the Covenant. The Obama Administration doesn't have anything to say about it.
Not only is the whole health care reform issue too complicated for most people to understand, not only is it infested with special interest groups and tainted in the eyes of the public with notions of 'over-dependence on the government', there is also an ideological difference in the US towards basic human rights which most countries that have adopted universal health care, didn't have to deal with.
Maybe things have to get much worse in this country before a call to arms will occur. Hopefully one day, Americans will finally realize that the barbarians are not at the gate but inside of it. I hope that sooner, rather than later, they will be defeated. leave comment here
** Source can be found on this website: 'Physicians for a National Health Program': A Brief History: Universal Health Care Efforts in the US
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
by Madeleine Kando