Healthcare is a Human Right – May All Governors Give a Damn

bjorn-healthcare

Presented at The People’s March on Columbia at the South Carolina State House on President’s Day 2017

Healthcare is a human right.  Period.

Ring the bell!  Let us celebrate another human rights discovery!

More on this, presently.

We speakers have been asked to present messages of exhortation to our newly appointed Chief Executive of State, on behalf of “WE the People.”  As such:

To the Honorable Henry Dargan McMaster, 117th Governor of the Fair and August State of South Carolina:

Were I in your shoes—and more than a few folks have asked me to pursue the venerable office you now hold—before the end of my first day in office, I would push the button to Expand Medicaid.

Thus, nearly 300,000 of South Carolina’s poorest of the poor—yes, that’s 300,000 human beings according to Families USA—would soon have healthcare.  At the flick of a pen.  With all the ease of a Trumpean thumb-thump tweet.

Expanding Medicaid is a simple action you have yet to cross off your Gubernatorial To-Do List during your 28-day tenure.  32 other Governors, including Republicans, came to their Civilization senses long ago.  Why not you?

Governor, it’s so easy!  You could give the order to Expand Medicaid as you play “Carolina in my Mind” on your guitar, whilst chowing down on a mustard, vinegar and ketchup-based BBQ sandwich; your favorite snack.

As it stands, it is my displeasure to inform you that you have BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS.  No, that’s not Heinz 57.  Our fellow South Carolinian neighbors are suffering and dying unnecessarily BECAUSE. OF. YOU.

They suffered and died under your predecessor, as well, a woman who was such a healthcare abomination that, despite her present title as U.N. Ambassador, she should never be allowed within so much as a sneeze cloud of the World Health Organization.

Let us recall the words of Governor Nikki Haley to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013:

“We will not expand Medicaid on President Obama’s watch.  We will not expand Medicaid ever.”

Since then, hundreds of thousands of your constituents—our family, friends and neighbors—have suffered and died from Wanton Gubernatorial Neglect.

If that’s not a crime against humanity, what is?

Perhaps some folks gathered here today do not know what Expanded Medicaid means.  It’s not a particularly sexy term.  Let’s come up with a new label.  How about ‘The ACA Lifesaver.’

Imagine you are poor and metaphorically drowning because you don’t have healthcare.  No worries!  In 2010, President Obama tossed you an Affordable Care Act floatation device to save your life!  The poorest of the poor among us—those with incomes below nearly 140% of the poverty rate—have an easy way to access decent healthcare:

Their Governor just has to give a damn about them.

Yes, it’s that simple.  The Governor waves his or her hand in the air—and Voila!  Healthcare for hundreds of thousands of folks—and Uncle Sam will pick up most of the tab:  100% during years 2014-2016, and 90% in 2017 and beyond.

Everyone thinks this is a wonderful idea except, of course, that all too familiar list of states whose Governors never learned how to share in kindergarten:  Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, etc.  Oh, and South Carolina.

Here’s how Governor McMaster’s refusal to use ‘The ACA Lifesaver’ plays out:

I know a young woman who recently lost Medicaid coverage by virtue of reaching adulthood.  She is an orphan; her grandparents are deceased, as well.  She lives in a poor, rural Midlands community with an ill great-grandmother in her mid-80s.

Work has been next to impossible to find.  She’s bright and capable, but has virtually no access to public transportation.  For now, both individuals live on one elderly woman’s Social Security check of next-to-nil.

Because this young woman is so poor, she qualifies for The ACA Lifesaver in most states.  But she lives in South Carolina.  She no longer qualifies for regular Medicaid, and she earns too little to qualify for healthcare marketplace subsidies.  Also, she can’t attach herself to her parents’ insurance—because they’re no longer alive.

Thus, this young woman is more or less Healthcare S.O.L.

How should we explain this social absurdity to a 19-year-old orphan and her 84-year-old great-grandmother?

I’m so sorry.  If only Governor McMaster gave a gosh-darn about you.  If it’s any consolation, he doesn’t give a golly-gee-wiliker about hundreds of thousands of others just like you.  Nor does Donald Trump, nor does the United States Congress.  In fact, Trump, Inc. would like to expand this “I don’t give a goodness gracious” list to include all 2.6 million individuals who quality for The ACA Lifesaver.  So, please don’t take it personally.

Let us begin the beguine, again.

As some of you know, I am a public librarian.  One of my recent projects included examining roughly half the books in our branch collection—that is, holding each text in my hand.  Thousands of human written works.  In no one text did I find all of the answers to life.  I didn’t even find all the questions.  (Although, I must admit that rediscovering The Republic was timely.  Please, if you can, take time to study Plato’s ancient wisdom.)

Not even in this document, The Constitution of the United States, can one find all the answers to our political and social problems.  Not in 2017, at any rate.  Perhaps someday.

You might be surprised to hear such words from a politician—someone who ran for the office of United States Congress, no less.  Yet let us note that while this text is a most remarkable human endeavor, the U.S. Constitution remains a Living Document.  A Living Document of Discovery.

From time to time, we human beings stumble newly upon a human right, a universal mandate by which to live well and prosper in one another’s society.

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony discovered and claimed such a right—nearly 50 years before the U.S. Constitution recognized her forever-and-a-day right to vote.

As such, we 21st-century human beings are now awakening to the knowledge that every human being—every man, women and child—is entitled to high-quality healthcare.

Not health insurance.  But health care.

Governor McMaster, this, then, is the opportunity before you:

It is not too late to wash your hands of the blood of our poor citizen neighbors.  It is not too late to join the League of Civilized Governors.  I exhort you, with the full-throated support of hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians, to recognize the right of every person in our state, especially the poor, to have high-quality health care.

Expand Medicaid.  Today.  Use The ACA Lifesaver.  Today.

Please give a damn.

Sincerely,

Citizen Bjorn

Postscript

Healthcare is a political white whale, if ever there was.  It is a vast and complex subject, yet one that permeates our simple daily living—plus, it is responsible for nearly 20% of national spending.

In the middle of the 19th-century, physicians were just discovering the lifesaving benefit of washing their hands before providing medical care.  Today, researchers are 3D bioprinting organs and providing web-based stroke care.

During the past century-and-a-half, the science and art of health and healing have come so far—though perhaps I shouldn’t mention that the federal government just penalized nearly 800 hospitals for high rates of hospital-acquired infections and other complications, such as post-surgical blood clots and falls.  (Now there’s an airtight case for governmental regulation; also, a 21st-century version of “learning to wash our hands.”)

Governor McMaster, there were many pathways I could have pursued on the subject of healthcare.  For instance, a Chief Executive of State must focus the public’s attention on the need to build learning health systems, to improve and support patient-centered care and research, and to establish healthcare quality standards that increase patient safety.  Also, as the South Carolina Medical Association reminds us, we must work to reduce the influence of insurance companies on physician-patient relationships.

I speak to you today, not as the former manager of a $2 billion academic knowledge-based economy program, the SmartState Program, that built biomedical research centers and facilities throughout our state and brought healthcare research experts to South Carolina from all over the world in order to improve our health and better our livelihoods.  Though I could.

I speak to you today, not as an individual who co-coordinated numerous major health research grants, including a $15 million grant from The Duke Endowment, which coalesced the learning health system expertise of researchers at UNC, Duke University, Wake Forest University, along with major hospital systems and the senior research institutions in South Carolina (USC, Clemson, MUSC).  Though I could.

Instead, I speak to you today as the son of a mother who recently fell into the Medicare doughnut hole—an elderly woman who couldn’t receive coverage for her diabetes medication for several months at the end of the year.  I speak to you today as an individual with a preexisting condition—an individual who clearly remembers being denied healthcare insurance because a system is allowed to favor dollar-hungry health insurance companies over patients.

I speak to you as a former congressional candidate of South Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District who knows that the entire citizenry of Barnwell County remains without hospital and emergency room services.  I speak to you as a resident of Richland County who watches hospital after hospital being built in affluent parts of the county, while the healthcare needs of citizens in Lower Richland County (Hopkins, Eastover) are trumped (pun intended) by decree of Mammon.

During your tenure as Governor, our state will either choose healthcare Civilization or barbarianism, and you will have much input on that choice.

Thus, I would like to close with the words of a true expert on the matter, President and Dr. David J. Cole of the Medical University of South Carolina.  If my words do not stir you to action, I pray his words will:

Now is the time to stop pointing fingers, step forward and build a coalition of business leaders, legislators and citizens to change the viewpoints and decision-making that is creating an increasingly difficult situation for patients and for the health of our state.  South Carolina and the Lowcountry must implement responsible solutions that make sense before the health of our state falls even further behind.

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Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the 2016 Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, Waiting for Civilization. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook.

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