Comprehensive Health Care Is A Basic Right, Not A Privilege

By Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Friday May 14, 2004

We should be ashamed that, in a country of unmatched wealth and prosperity, we simply allow people to suffer and die if they don’t have the money to pay for our array of medical technologies and services. We should be ashamed that, with everything we have to offer, people who work hard to support their families are frequently left bankrupt or untreated when they or their children get sick or injured. Why? Because they can’t afford health insurance.  

The ongoing phenomenon of Americans working—and living—without health insurance is a tragic injustice—and it’s growing worse. During Cover the Uninsured Week, we must re-double our efforts to remedy this grave injustice. Worse, thanks, to corporate greed and an economy that has cost our workers millions of jobs, the number of uninsured Americans has actually risen over the last few years. According to a recent study, the number of uninsured has climbed from 41 million to 43.6 million. 8.5 million of these uninsured are children. There is absolutely no reason why anyone in this country, regardless of age or medical condition, should be without health insurance. 

Comprehensive health care should not be an option for the lucky or wealthy, but a fundamental right for all. There are a number of legislative initiatives that have been introduced in Congress, and the best of these call for a single-payer health care system, which would guarantee comprehensive health insurance for all Americans. One single-payer option is H.R. 3000, the United States Universal Health Service Act (UHSA), which I have introduced. UHSA would establish a United States Health Service, which would be controlled by the public and administered primarily at the local level. The decentralized system would provide high quality comprehensive care for all, regardless of ability to pay, and distribute services according to need. This bill will specifically make high-quality, preventive, acute, and long-term care available to everyone, regardless of demographics, employment status, or previous health status.  

Congress should be debating proposals like H.R. 3000 to provide access to affordable, quality care for all. Instead, this week, the Republican leadership has scheduled debate on a few modest and flawed measures that, at best, would patch a few small cracks in our broken health care system. We must work to put real health care reform at the top of our nation’s agenda and that means a change in the climate in Washington. We have an opportunity to make that change this November.  


Barbara Lee represents California’s Ninth Congressional District.