Photo: nationalnursesunited.org

In 2018, Alec Smith-Holt, a 26-year-old restaurant manager, was found dead in his apartment by his girlfriend. Smith-Holt, a Type 1 diabetic, died after falling into a diabetic ketoacidosis coma (an often fatal complication of blood acid accumulation) as a result of rationing his insulin because he could not afford to pay $1,300 dollars per month for insulin and supplies.

Smith-Holt became another victim of the depraved for-profit healthcare system where insurance, pharmaceutical and medical device companies reign supreme and where being poor and lacking healthcare can be synonymous to a death sentence.

In the U.S., drug companies can wantonly hike prices of indispensable medications such as insulin or epinephrine pens without any blowback or fallout, except the consequences endured by many working class people who cannot afford them.

For example, the big three insulin producers, Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk, which control 96 percent of the market, have raised the price of insulin products to an average of $300, although production costs are less than $7 per vial.

Epi-pens are essential to keeping people with serious allergies alive, especially children. This did not stop Mylan, the company that makes the pens, from raising the price by 500 percent over 7 years, from $100 for a two-pack to $600. The life saving device costs about $30 to produce.

45,000 die from lack of health care

Unfortunately, the death of Alec Smith-Holt is not an isolated incident. He is one of the many people in the U.S. who have died because they either don’t have healthcare insurance or are unable to afford medical treatment such as medication or surgery. In fact, the percentage of uninsured people has risen in recent years, notwithstanding the Affordable Care Act, which extended some coverage, and is now under attack. The mortality figures are unprecedented. According to a Harvard School of Medicine study, some 45,000 Americans die yearly due to lack of healthcare insurance.

The dystopian nature of the U.S. healthcare system

It is not hyperbole to say that the majority of people living in the United States are an accident or a medical diagnosis away from bankruptcy and total economic disaster. Early this year a study concluded that over 66.5  percent of all bankruptcies filed were related to medical issues. Furthermore, the study found that each year approximately 530,000 families have to file bankruptcy because they cannot afford the high cost of medical care or cannot return back to work due to a medical condition. In recent years many have had to rely on popular funding websites such as  go-fund-me in order to finance their medical bill expenses.

It is dystopic, irrational and absurd that in the richest country in the world working people are faced with losing their life savings, homes, jobs, and with total financial calamity while avaristic medical industry capitalists hoard profits and live lavishly at the expense of average working people, causing misery and suffering.

It is a total fallacy to think that we have the best healthcare system in the world, as some politicians would have us believe. This lie is now being challenged by countless people in this country. This was apparent in the April 15 Fox News town hall meeting with Senator Bernie Sanders, where the majority if not all attendees displayed discontent with the current healthcare system and unequivocally supported Sanders’ proposition for Medicare-For-All. In actuality the U.S. stands alone as the only industrialized and developed country in the world without universal healthcare coverage.

Money for wars but not healthcare

One of the myths mostly widely promoted by many politicians and pundits is that expanding healthcare coverage to everyone will bring immediate fiscal catastrophe to the federal budget.

It is utterly hypocritical and disingenuous to claim that the U.S. can not afford Medicare-For-All while it has allocated over $700 billion to the Pentagon in 2020. This military spending bill was approved in a bipartisan vote. The lavish U.S. military budget equals the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil.

Then there’s the tens of billions of dollars that have been already spent on the criminal wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

As if this was not callous enough, the first financial audit of the Pentagon revealed that it cannot account for $21 trillion dollars in taxpayer money. This includes $21,000 billion that cannot even tracked, according to the Department of Defense Inspector General and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. This is beyond appalling, it is criminal and inhumane. Yet, austerity measures are deliberately taken in regard to healthcare spending, not spending for bombs and guns.

Many hard-working people through no fault of their own become sick and are destined to face death, debt, and destitution. Meanwhile, the global war profiteers and military complex industry are showered with trillions of dollars.

Where does the so-called liberal ‘resistance’ stand?

When it comes to healthcare, the stance of the Trump administration and most Republicans is well known. Not only do they oppose any progress towards universal coverage, but they also vehemently advocate for rolling back the few gains, such as the ACA, and even call for major cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The political opposition to universal healthcare does not just come from the fringes of the far right, but from both sides of the political aisle. Many centrist Democrats and even liberal pundits such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, have expressed opposition or warned against a Medicare-For-All policy. Their fetishism of “free markets” and worship of a small cabal of capitalists from the medical industry clouds their view on the issue.

These pundits turn their eyes away from the insurmountable suffering and misery created under the current healthcare system. Their class position in society may make the death and the personal catastrophe that occurs from not having access to healthcare and preventive medicine strange to them, but for most American workers, people of color and even the middle class, it is a sad reality.

Where do Democrats stand on healthcare?

The position of the Democratic establishment and most of the Democratic candidates was in full display in the recent presidential candidate debates. Out of the 20 candidates that participated, only two avowed support for a healthcare bill that would give complete access to healthcare for all Americans and would significantly change of the current healthcare system. The rest of the candidates merely support token reforms or subtle changes, but they would leave the current healthcare system intact.

While they suggest limited government participation, and some expanded coverage, private company profiteering would not be curtailed or eliminated. Their idea of healthcare reform would leave the insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations, and medical device companies intact.

We cannot afford to limit healthcare reform to a few insignificant alterations to the current healthcare system. We need a new healthcare system that wrests the power away from the oligarchy of the medical industry. We need a new healthcare system that makes the mega-insurance companies obsolete. We need a new healthcare system where the government not only controls and significantly regulates the prices of medication, treatments and therapies, but also guarantees every person, regardless of their status, access to affordable quality healthcare.

No one knows better about the pain, suffering, misery and death attributed to lack of healthcare than nurses, doctors and other medical staff.
As a nurse in a critical care unit at an inner city hospital, I have witnessed personally the devastating impact that lack of access to affordable healthcare has in working class communities. Folks who can’t afford life sustaining medications such as insulin or even antibiotics, and are unable to access primary healthcare providers and preventive medicine, present to the emergency department critically ill. The outcomes are often detrimental and even fatal.

It is not surprising that nurses are mobilizing and joining the movements for universal healthcare. In fact, the largest nurses’ union in the U.S., National Nurses United, is currently supporting the new Medicare for All Act of 2019 which was introduced by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). Additionally, the NNU, and other nurse activists who advocate for single-payer healthcare, are campaigning and organizing because they witness daily how our current healthcare system ruins lives.

We cannot and should not wait for nor rely on the Democratic Party for any substantial change in the status quo. Changes and gains, as in the past, will be made from grassroots movements and community organizing. We should not settle for meaningless reforms but rather push for a radical and revolutionary overhaul of our healthcare system.

Healthcare, along with education, jobs, and affordable housing, are essential human rights indispensable for everyone.