On Human Rights Day, December 10th, Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland and NESRI released report on Maryland’s health care crisis and growing human rights movement. The report, Voices of Maryland’s Healthcare Crisis and the Rising Human Rights Movement, drew on surveys from almost 900 Maryland residents and personal stories of people’s experience with the health care system. Almost half of people surveyed have been forced to forego needed care because of healthcare costs, and 95% of people said they believe that health care is a human right.
The report was released at Charm City Clinic, a free health clinic in East Baltimore providing health care and social services to an overwhelmingly poor African American community just blocks from a new $1.1-billion hospital at Johns Hopkins.
Speakers at the event included Emmanuel McCray and Amy Woodrum, who shared stories of struggling to get health care; Mike Rogers and Eugene Brown from Charm City Clinic; Glen Galante from the Maryland Education Association; Dr. Margaret Flowers, a physician and health care advocate; Sergio España of Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland; and Ben Palmquist of NESRI. The speakers shared a mix of stories, statistics, and calls to action, together delivering a clarion call to move from a market-based health insurance system to a universal, publicly financed health care system that guarantees health care as a public good for all residents of Maryland.
“We’re the wealthiest country in the world, and yet we systematically deny people access to health care,” said Dr. Eric Naumburg, one of the authors of the report. “An insurance market is a great way for insurance companies to make money, but from a human rights perspective, it just doesn’t work. Markets simply aren’t intended to guarantee access to health care. The only way we’re ever going to make sure every person in Maryland can get the health care they need is if we provide universal health care as a public good.”
Voices of Maryland’s Healthcare Crisis reveals that the cost of health care has forced 45% of people surveyed to skip doctor’s appointments, medication, or other forms of health care, pushing people into poor health, medical debt, and other struggles. One in three people surveyed said that they have a family member whose health has deteriorated because they could not afford to seek care. Forty-five percent of people said they have had trouble paying insurance premiums, copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, and other insurance costs. Thirty-seven percent of people said that they or a family member stayed in a job just to keep insurance coverage.
Emmanuel McCray, an army veteran who is featured in the report, spoke at the report release of his personal struggles with cancer and health insurance. McCray returned from Iraq in 2007 and in 2011 was diagnosed with cancer. He went into remission, but in 2013, his cancer returned. In order to stay on his employer’s insurance plan, he had to work full time at Wal-Mart as he went through treatment. Eventually the toil became too much. McCray lost his job, and with it his insurance. “Cancer is the toughest battle I’ve ever been through in my life,” says McCray. “I served in the military, through combat. I had control over that situation. This [health care situation] I don’t have control over. I’ve got to force myself to work.”
The report found that McCray is far from alone: Maryland residents are widely disaffected by the current health care system. Ninety-five percent of people surveyed say that they believe health care is a human right, and 86% say that the government is obligated to protect this right, but only 18% think that the right to health care is currently protected in Maryland. Sixty-five percent of people surveyed say that they currently have no say in the health care system, and 75% support a shift to a publicly funded universal health care system.
Sergio España, an organizer for the campaign, reflected, “Because of this health care crisis, residents, unions, and health care professionals across the state are coming together to call for a universal, single-payer health care system that ensures people’s human rights. People know that this is going to be a big political fight, but the only way they’re going to see this come to be is if we all stand up and take action together to demand the system we need.”
Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland is a group of Maryland residents who are organizing to build a people’s movement led by those most impacted by the health care crisis to change what is politically possible in their state and win a universal, publicly financed system. The Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign was inspired by the Vermont Workers’ Center, which first launched its Healthcare Is a Human Right Campaign in 2008. That campaign was instrumental in pushing Vermont’s legislators to pass Act 48, a groundbreaking law that committed Vermont to becoming the first state in the country to create a universal health care system to provide healthcare as a public good. Even as the Vermont Workers’ Center continues to campaign to ensure Vermont’s transition to universal health care, activists in other states have taken up the Vermont model and are leading their own Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns. Maryland is part of a growing human rights movement that also includes Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns in Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington State.
Voices of Maryland can be downloaded for free at https://dignityandrights.org/resources/voices-of-marylands-healthcare-crisis-and-the-rising-human-rights-movement/.