The following news updates are excerpted from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative’s News Bulletin:
- Sanders campaign puts universal health care back on the national agenda
- California expands health care access for undocumented immigrants
- Civil rights groups request federal investigation of Medi-Cal for denying care through low reimbursement rates
- Opposition lining up to defeat Colorado initiative
- Health crisis reveals a crisis of democracy in Flint
- Florida purges 9,000 kids with illnesses and disabilities from health care
Bernie Sanders’ proposal for “Medicaid for All” has put universal, publicly financed health care back on the national agenda, opening an opportunity for health care activists but generating a rain of opposition suggesting that such a proposal is too politically fraught, or falsely suggesting that providing universal health care as a public good would cost more than we pay now in the market-based insurance system. Not only would public financing for health care clearly protect health far better than the current market-based insurance system, but new analyses from PolitiFact, economist Gerald Friedman and Harvard and CUNY public health professors David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler (as well as last year’s letter of support from over 100 economists for universal health care in Vermont) explain why universal health care would be much cheaper than the private system.
California has taken two important steps toward removing the barriers that prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing needed health care. Forty-seven of the state’s 58 counties now provide basic preventative care for people without documentation. This follows a new state law passed last year that allows all low-income children 19 and younger to enroll in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, regardless of their immigration status. Importantly, both the county and the state programs have committed public money in order to finance these health care programs as public goods. While California still denies comprehensive care to all undocumented adults as well as to undocumented children whose parents’ income exceeds the Medi-Cal threshold, it could serve as a model for organizers and advocates in other states.
Civil rights groups request federal investigation of Medi-Cal for denying care through low reimbursement rates
A coalition of civil rights organizations has requested a federal investigation of Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, arguing that California’s inequitable, fragmented health care system discriminates against Latinos. While it is completely legal under U.S. law to discriminate against people for being poor, the law in theory protects us from discrimination based on our race or national origin. The advocates say that because Medi-Cal reimburses doctors at a far lower rate than other insurance programs, doctors are dropping out of the program, which effectively denies health care access to people in the program, nearly two-thirds of whom are Latino. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has six months to investigate.
Opponents of universal health care are revealing their playbook in Colorado, where at least two new groups have been set up to defeat the initiative for statewide universal, publicly financed health care on the ballot in November. Advancing Colorado was set up last year with backing from the Koch brothers, and is leading a hard-line assault based in fear and market fanaticism. Coloradans for Coloradans was launched by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce in January, and is striking a softer tone, but also tells people they should be fearful of change, and completely misrepresents health care financing by focusing just on public taxation and completely ignoring that the private premiums that people and employers pay now would be eliminated by moving to public financing. Coloradans for Coloradans also cites Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s withdrawal of support for universal health care in arguing against the Colorado initiative, misrepresenting Shumlin’s politically motivated move to question the feasibility of universal health care at the state level even though more than 100 economists signed on last year to support universal health care in Vermont.
Two years after lead began to show up in the water flowing into people’s homes in Flint, Michigan, public officials and the media are finally paying attention. The water crisis began after public officials sought to cut money from the public budget by switching the source of Flint’s water supply to the Flint River, which has been polluted by many decades of industrial waste. The river water corroded the city’s pipes, leaching lead into the water that flowed into people’s homes. Lead is a poison that harms the development of children’s brains even if it is consumed in miniscule quantities. The State of Michigan failure to protect Flint’s residents, who are mostly Black and mostly poor, reveals a democratic crisis in which people’s lives and health are tragically undervalued and in which people have no way to hold the government and private actors accountable to their human rights.
In a particularly appalling example of how austerity budgeting denies human rights, the State of Florida has pushed 9,000 poor kids, all of whom are sick or have a disability, out of a publicly financed health care program. The state capped spending on the program at an arbitrary amount, then pushed thousands of kids out of the program and fired 718 people in order to meet its budget numbers. This is the exact opposite of human rights budgeting, which begins by determining human needs and then raises the revenue needed to meet those needs. Don’t miss the Miami Herald’s powerful investigative report. The Herald’s review of hundreds of public records found that the purge, at a time when the state had a $635 million surplus and Governor Rick Scott was proposing $1 billion in tax cuts, was part of an ideologically driven plan to privatize the public health care program.