America’s inability to provide good health care for all is most clearly visible when we have a health catastrophe such as exists today in Flint, Michigan, a city of 100,000. The people of Flint were poisoned with lead and other toxins in the water as the result of a dictatorial emergency manager switching the city’s water supply to the Flint River in 2014. Today they and their children are suffering seizures, skin rashes, hair loss, anemia, memory loss, brain fog and fatigue, among other symptoms.
Lead poisoning does lifetime damage, especially to children, so the demands of Flint’s people justifiably include lifetime health care. Clearly they are not going to get it from a health care system that is privately owned and sells health care as a commodity. The average Flint resident doesn’t have much money. While there has been some extension of Medicaid to cover more women and children in Flint, that doesn’t cover everyone. The immediate solution is to extend Medicare coverage to every Flint resident.
There is precedent for this. Years ago, the people of Libby, Montana were poisoned on a mass scale by airborne asbestos from a local vermiculite mine. Over time, thousands got sick and hundreds died. In June 2009, in the first action of its kind, the Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health disaster for the whole county around Libby. The W.R. Grace Co. that owned the mine dodged responsibility for the disaster. Congress then approved adding a provision to the 2010 health care reform bill that extended Medicare coverage, free of charge, to the whole Libby community.
The government must extend Medicare, free of charge, to every resident of Flint. And this would move us a step closer to having Medicare for all for the entire country, and a step closer to having a national health service.
The health care emergency is nationwide, and thousands are dying. Some 30 million people still have no health insurance at all. The health reform law extended coverage to some, but for many, those policies are expensive and don’t cover much. Millions still can’t afford to go to the doctor, while the insurance and pharmaceutical companies are striking it rich.
The corporations used to provide health insurance because they needed healthy workers. Today, millions of jobs have been automated out of existence or sent overseas, and the corporations are not going to provide health care for workers they don’t need. The question is whether the government is going to represent the interests of the corporations, or the interests of the people. We need the government to intervene on behalf of the people.
There are many health care emergencies under way in America, but Flint embodies so much of what is happening in our country—the elimination of jobs, the destruction of democracy, and the resulting assault on peoples’ lives. Bringing Medicare for all to Flint, including prescription drugs, would build on the precedent set in Libby and create a health care model for the whole country. The crisis in Flint cries out for Medicare for all.
Forcing the government to recognize health care as a human right is a key battle in the fight for a whole new society where all of us can lead happy and healthy lives.