Free, universal health care must be a right!

Where do the presidential candidates stand?

According to a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, about 11 percent of U.S. adults consider health care to be the most important issue in the November election. It is surpassed only by the economy, with close to 56 percent, and the Iraq war, with 34 percent.

None of the three leading
presidential candidates support
free, universal health care.

There is good reason for the focus on health care. The existing health care system excludes one in seven people—47 million altogether—in the world’s richest country. Undocumented workers do not even have access to Medicaid because they lack a legal status. According to a Commonwealth Fund study released on Jan. 8, the U.S. health care system is ranked as the worst among 19 industrialized nations.

Those who are insured lack adequate coverage and are faced with high premiums and deductibles. Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary "Sicko" brought great attention to the issue with shocking personal stories of insured people who were denied coverage in their time of greatest need.

Most U.S. workers today find themselves in a precarious situation where severe illness can mean losing their livelihoods. In November, voters will go to the polls hoping that a presidential candidate will meet their needs, including their need for quality health care.

Visiting the websites of the capitalist presidential hopefuls and listening to their interviews on the topic, one would think that any one of the candidates will bring about universal coverage.

During a speech delivered at the University of South Florida’s Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, John McCain said: "We want a system of health care in which everyone can afford and acquire the treatment and preventative care they need, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing they are covered. Health care in America should be affordable by all, not just the wealthy."

"If you are one of the 45 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, you will have it after this plan becomes law. No one will be turned away because of a preexisting condition or illness," said Barack Obama during a 2007 speech in Iowa.

The boldest statement came from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Her website reads: "America is ready for universal health care. Hillary has the vision and the experience to make it a reality. This is a battle Hillary has fought before—and she has the scars to prove it. She knows better than anyone how to fight and build the political support to get the job done."

But, in reality, these candidates’ health care plans would amount to much less than what they claim.

Capitalist candidates fall short

John McCain has championed the message of "personal responsibility" to maintain the highest quality health care. By "personal responsibility," McCain means leaving workers to fend for themselves against predatory insurance companies in the for-profit health care system.

McCain also defends the idea of protecting the "highest quality" health care, saying that the Democratic candidates’ proposals "move closer to a nationalized health system." In truth, he wants the "highest quality" health care to be available only to those who can afford it—the rich. McCain, from the right, also perpetuates the myth that Obama’s and Clinton’s plans are somewhere close to universal health care.

His false characterization demonizes the idea of nationalizing the private health system, insinuating that a government-controlled system would mean diminished quality. This brand of capitalist propaganda is reminiscent of the attacks on universal health care by former president Ronald Reagan, who characterized it as "a short step all the way to socialism."

In fact, nationalization on a capitalist basis would be a far cry from socialism—it would not be enough, but would still be a step forward from the disastrous health care system existing in the United States today.

McCain’s plan relies on "free market" competition between the insurance companies. His plan hails this competition as the way to have insurance choices that are "diverse" and "affordable."

He proposes removing favorable tax treatment for employer-based insurance and giving tax credits of $2,500 to individuals and $5,000 to families. However, some individuals pay as much as $5,090 and some families pay as much as $9,200. Under McCain’s plan, workers would be at risk of losing health care benefits through their job and not being able to afford insurance on the proposed tax credits.

McCain does not give any concrete proposal to cover the nearly 50 million uninsured people in the U.S. Instead, he proposes subsidies for those at high-risk, but he compares this to existing insurance limitations to high premiums in some states. Under McCain’s plan, customers may buy insurance anywhere in the U.S.—in other words, insurance companies may shift their operations to states with fewer regulations.

The Democratic candidates’ plans are not tangibly better. They take advantage of the Republicans’ unapologetic contempt for workers’ needs to portray themselves as friends of working people, but their for-profit proposals bring us no closer to universal health care. Their proposals seek to keep the rich capitalists rich and keep the poor and uninsured that way.

Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama’s history reveals an anti-worker stance on numerous issues—not least of which is health care. Obama opposes the reforms proposed in H.R. 676, a single-payer health care bill that would reduce administrative costs that now account for one-third of health care expenditures. The expected $300 billion in annual savings would go toward covering the uninsured and expand coverage for the underinsured.

Obama believes that the road to universal coverage is affordability. He, too, relies on big capitalist insurance companies to cover U.S. workers. According to Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T., a U.S. health care economist, Obama’s plan could possibly cover 23 million of those currently without care. He proposes a mandate that would require all children to be covered, but not adults.

Obama’s plan would raise premiums because many people would not sign up for health insurance until they became ill.

But none of this guarantees coverage to the sick. The reality of insurance companies is one of high costs, underinsuring people and rejecting claims for covered individuals and families. Even if you can afford insurance in this country, it might not cover some or any medical expenses. This is up to the insurance companies’ discretion.

Hillary Clinton’s plan is substantively similar to Obama’s. It would shift the burden of care onto individuals, not the capitalist insurance companies or the government. Her plan would require all individuals—both children and adults—to have health insurance. A Clinton adviser compared it to laws in most states requiring all drivers to purchase auto insurance. (CNN, Sept. 18, 2007) Yet, auto insurance requirements hardly ensure that drivers can pay for it; rather, they penalize those who cannot afford it if they are caught without coverage.

Clinton would rely on insurance companies to cover customers at "affordable" prices—what exactly that means is a mystery. The government considers a family of four making a meager $21,200 a year to be living above poverty levels. One can only imagine that Washington’s definition of "affordability" is about as out of touch with the reality of working-class people as its outrageous definition of poverty.

Clinton is not proposing that the government fund a single-payer health plan nor does she attempt to achieve universal health care in any way. A mandatory insurance requirement is, at best, a gift to capitalist health insurance companies, which stand to reap billions as the uninsured scramble to pay for the required plans.

Clinton’s health care reforms would keep private insurance companies as the central pillar of the U.S. health care system. Only cutting the insurance companies out of the picture altogether could make a difference.

We need socialism

Enough is enough. None of the candidates of the capitalist class are acting in the interests of U.S. workers. They are seeking popular support for insubstantial reforms through empty rhetoric and posturing.

Free, universal health care should be a right for working-class people. The private health insurance profiteers must be dismantled and pharmaceutical corporations expropriated. The Party for Socialism and Liberation’s presidential candidate, Gloria La Riva, and vice presidential candidate, Eugene Puryear, believes that quality health care must be free and available to all people.

Of the world’s 25 leading industrialized countries, the United States is the only one that lacks universal care. Universal health care was not achieved in other industrialized countries without a fight. Following World War II, Europe saw massive labor and communist-led upheavals demanding better living and working conditions. To defend their own class interests, European capitalists made concessions such as universal health care to stave off revolutions.

And universal care, while far better than what we have in the United States today, cannot be truly equitable under capitalism. It is always in danger of being reversed. Where the profit motive still exists, the system demands exploitation and inequity.

Universal, equal and free care is a right under socialism, as are all the basic needs of people. Even during the most difficult days of World War II, the Soviet Union maintained universal health care for all of its citizens, among many other crucial social programs and benefits. Socialist Cuba has maintained top-notch, free, universal health care, despite the decades-long U.S. blockade that prevents health care supplies, medicine and research from reaching the island.

The La Riva/Puryear campaign believes universal health care will not be won through elections, but through struggle. The La Riva/Puryear campaign demands free universal health care now, and will continue the fight for a system where people’s needs, not profits, come first.

Skip Interest Selector

My Interests |  All >   News & Analysis >   United States >  

Health care

Add to My Interests

All active news articles