Healthcare as a Human Right

The Women’s Economic Agenda Project (W.E.A.P) facilitated a “teach-in” on July 27th on the Affordable Care Act and its implications to the current environment of healthcare in the US.

As an NGO advocating for economic human rights, healthcare is an essential part of this agenda.

Let’s start with what international human rights says about healthcare.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Article 12.1 states that, “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” In subsection 2.(d), it further expands upon the steps to be taken by signatory States shall create, “…conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.
Which, in the current conditions of the US healthcare system, has not met the basic standards of these conditions to say the least.

To be technical, US is indeed a signatory in the ICESCR; however, it has not ratified this law into effect. This is often the case because politicians fear that the sovereignty of US Constitution will be trampled–which I’d argue is bs because international law is set up so that States still retain their sovereignty in our State-oriented world order. What the ICESCR does set up for the United States is a legal framework that we as a nation has agreed to its principles. We can also be like our neighbors to the north–aka Canada–and incorporate it into our existing laws to strengthen human rights for our citizens (it can mean less sick people but  I’m sure Uncle Sam is worried we’ll be a society of weak socialist hippies).

*A quick word on the Canadian system:
All Canadian citizens have health care that is funded by income taxes and sales tax. The national government has oversight for military members and indigenous communities on reserves, but the 10 provincial and three territorial governments take care of the rest. The doctors and hospitals are private entities, which distinguishes the Canadian system from the British system of socialized medicine in which doctors are employed by the government. If you want more info on how other countries run their health care systems.  Here is a link to a useful bit of info: http://people.howstuffworks.com/10-health-care-systems.htm#page=0

Now WEAP as an organization have an agenda. Most are listed out on their website. Here is the intro. WEAP was the first to host and co-facilitate a social forum called the World Court of Women. The World Court of Women was founded by Corinne Kumar to be “another civic authority.” Ms. Kumar believes that,

“The courts of women are expressions of a new imaginary refusing that human rights be defined and confined only to that which has been hegemonic (the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group). These articulations are finding new ways of speaking truth to power, challenging the different notions of power…”

 With this in mind, the conclusion of the World Court of Women resulted in the establishments of Resolutions of Action. These resolutions of actions are a statement of responses by organizations who have set forth new approaches to addressing the injustices of poverty.

Poverty rears its injustice in many forms. One of which is in healthcare.
The reality is that the US is one of the only developed countries without universal health care. The Atlantic article highlights this point to illustrate the current trends and trajectory of US on the conversation on universal health care.

Within these Resolutions of Actions (ROAs), they have a ROA on health care titled, Resolution on Healthcare for the 99%. Again, keep in mind that the ROAs are an affirmation to the vision for a” transformation of systems and governments to end poverty” (WEAP.org).

In the Resolution on the Healthcare for the 99%, WEAP sets forth numerous faults in our healthcare. This includes the unsustainably high cost to maintain or get health coverage for individuals and families, the abysmal quality of our health care–a WHO report ranked the US healthcare 37th out of 191,  the profit-based healthcare industry, and the bureaucratic mess caused by insurance companies and hospitals are only some of the things listed in the large scheme of headaches currently present in the US healthcare system.

Now, complaining about the flaws of a system is easy, but it accomplishes nothing. the ROAs on the Healthcare for the 99% proposes some means to counter these flaws. That’s one of the things that I loved learning as I work closely with an organization like WEAP is that WEAP and its allies have been fighting the fight against poverty and social injustice long enough, they know that they too also have to set forth an agenda to facilitate true change.

One of the key proposal is the Single-payer system.
This is also known as Improved Medicare for All.
One of the problems that arise with the ACA being implemented is that the new law EXPANDS the role of private health insurance. One of the mess that this causes is that there will be increased bureaucracies increases higher costs. Our current system there are hundreds, even thousands of different healthcare organizations–HMOs, billing agencies, etc. Administrative fees that goes into filing the billings for these organizations is tedious, confusing, and time consuming.  A single-payer system would be structured so that one entity–a publicly run organization–would collect all healthcare fees and pay out all healthcare costs.

Improved Medicare for All, aka single-payer healthcare is not socialized medicine. Its taking the system that we have in place and making it inclusive to our population in its entirety. Under this system doctors remain independent and hospitals continue to be run by private practice remain in private practice. People will be able to choose your own doctors and competition among providers will increase, as individuals, not an insurance company, decide where to get care.

There are numerous ways to make this sustainable.
One of the ways is through H.R. 1579.–The Inclusive Prosperity Act–aka the Robin Hood Tax. This is where a nominal tax on the sales of stocks, bonds and derivatives could raise up to $350 billion a year. This reduces speculative and risky spending seen by Wall St. that led to the economic crisis of 2008. The funds collected from these taxes could be used to strengthen social safety nets and expanding resources for child care, Social Security, affordable housing, healthcare and savings incentives.

Now, how is this different from the realities of the new Affordable Care Act (ACA)?
That itself presents numerous issues that needs to be clarified so I’ll write about that in another post.

What can be said though is that firstly, we are in desperate need to readdress how our healthcare system is structured. There is a way to make healthcare affordable to everyone and sustainable. Improved Medicare for All is also only one of the few proposed alternative to having a healthier and sustainable healthcare system. WEAP advocates that this can be the most sustainable alternative to our current system.

Community Organizing & the BART Strike

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

These words were one of the slogans of the BART/city workers on strike on July 1st, 2013…. I’m sure those are the words that commuters thought on Monday when the entire BART system was completely shut down.

What we as commuters might think as a headache to our daily commute doesn’t speak to the headache not settling this dispute between BART employees and its administrators will wreak upon not only the employees but to our communities reliant on BART.

Through my internship with WEAP (the Women’s Economic Agenda Project)–an Oakland based non-profit working on issues of economic human rights–I was able to participate in the strike that took place on July 1st.  I’d like to take the events that occurred that day to show how much of a headache it all was and will be if we do not take action as a community.

The strike caused an immediate inconvenience. But, there is a bigger consequence than having to suffer through atrocious traffic.

In its coverage, I have noticed that these union workers are depicted as greedy and asking for more than their fair share. Union jobs were once lauded. Now, these workers are treated as if they’re asking for too much for negotiating. As if there is a scarcity of some sort & that these workers are looking to exploit those limited resources. I for one, think its unfair to paint our neighbors in our community in such light. Wage increases are a part of a series of demands that BART employees are asking in order to better our community. In truth, I think this strike is able to shed light to the lack of MINIMAL care that is given to both workers and the community at large on the BART system.

Here’s some statistics provided by ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) Local 192.

  • BART reported 2,446 assaults and crimes at just 5 of 44 stations in the last 3 years
  • BART cut operations staff by 8% despite record ridership & fare increases
  • Assaults on BART workers have quadrupled in recent years, and at-work injuries are up 43%

When we examine the strike piece by piece. It seems very demanding of workers when certain sources state that the avg BART worker earns 70K/year (http://bit.ly/12awnK4).

By dividing the issue, I believe that it divides the community:
 BART/city employees vs. the community

This, however, doesn’t illustrate the collective damage that BART administration has inflicted upon our community. Cuts mean riders wait longer for service at night and in high-risk areas. There is a call to eliminate a worker safety committee and safety inspectors. AC transit has proposed to replace Sheriffs with untrained, unaccountable private security guards. All of this effects us ALL. 

One of the most noticeable things at the action on July 1st was the amount of support from local organizations that came out to speak out on the strike. EBHO (East Bay Housing Org) & CJJC (Causa Justa: Just Cause) are both housing rights organizations. ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) & Oakland Education Association from the educational sector came out in support of BART/city workers. The turn out of these diverse community organizations goes to show community organizing at its finest.

My final words (for now) on this topic is that: We can’t let perception further divide our community and pit us against one another. I know this may have ruined the commute for the 200,000 that rely on BART on a daily basis, but not having a secure environment for any workers is a communal issue that will affects us all as a whole. But like any struggle, it can be fought & overcome together. ImageImage