I am so tired of this sense of fear, frustration, confusion and even depression that comes from wondering whether human life will end on our watch, from worrying about the safety, prosperity and productivity of our children in this violence-saturated world.
We must continue to espouse the important issues of our day, issues that, if they are not solved, are certain to be the death of American culture as we know it.
Our government must constantly be reminded of its constitutional mandate. Power must constantly be spoken to by truth, or it ceases to care for the real concerns of the people and becomes tyrannical, isolated and even diabolical.
Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
We must demand accountability and responsibility of government, now more than ever.
One issue with which we must deal in all urgency is health care. Health insecurity is at an all-time high. When thousands of people lose their health insurance every day, when health care becomes elusive for even well-to-do Americans, when any person is just one pink slip away from being uninsured, it becomes clear health care for all is not just important, but imperative.
We attempted to do this in 1993 with President Clinton's Health Security Act, but the health insurance industry fought hard against it. Now that Barack Obama sees this need as clearly as does Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, as well as other presidential candidates -- Republican, independent and Democrat -- we must seize this moment.
At its root, the lack of health care for all in America is fundamentally a moral issue. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have some form of universal health care. Other countries have declared health care to be a basic human right, but the United States treats health care as a privilege, available only to those who can afford it.
Is that not the trouble with this society, that we have treated every issue of social responsibility as a privilege rather than a right or an opportunity? In this sense, health care in America is treated as an economic good such as a TV or a VCR, not as a social or public good.
The most visible victims of America's decision to treat health care as a privilege are the 45 million Americans who lack insurance. Despite the prevailing stereotypes, 80 percent of the uninsured are hardworking Americans who are employed or come from working families. They are not necessarily looking for handouts. But they are unable to obtain insurance through their work either because their employer does not offer it or offers it with the employee's share of the premium being too expensive, or they are ineligible for health insurance.
How can one be ineligible for health care in a democratic society? Put in market terms, we might need to consider the hidden cost of not having it as opposed to the $34 billion-$69 billion a good, comprehensive, universal health care plan would cost in this country.
Just to name a few costs, there would be:
n Fewer years of participation in the workforce. Just the annual cost of diminished health and shorter life spans without insurance would cost $65 billion-$130 billion a year.
n Developmental losses for children. Children who are uninsured are more likely to suffer delays in development because o poor health, affecting their future and the country's future earning capacity.
n Cost to public programs. Medicare, Social Security, disability insurance and the criminal justice system cost more than they would if there were universal coverage.
Then there are those areas of economic inefficiency because of the lack of universal care:
n Unnecessary use of the emergency room.
n Lack of preventive care and adequate care of chronic diseases.
n Strain on businesses.
n Loss of global competitiveness. General Motors reports every car it makes is $1,500 more expensive because of health costs. That's far more than what Japanese and German automakers have to pay, becuase both countries have national health plans.
Many things must change to secure the right healthcare. We must first advocate for total system changes. Let's hold all leaders and elected officials responsible and demand they change the current policies. Whoever the next presidential candidates are, they must know assuredly we will demand nothng less than a universal health program that is affordable and equitable and will protect all Americans. Let's do it today!
I am encouraged by the ideas of former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. In his new book, "The New American Story," he talks about the spirit of America that has always been optimistic, pragmatic and generous. He says there is no such thing as an "impossible idea" in this country. Whether we realize our ideals in this lifetime is immaterial, as long as we never give up trying. We can do this. We must do this!
In our system, government provides a way to help those in need. Only through government can we assure health care for everyone. Only government has the legitimacy, power and abiilty to deal with national problems. This is too big for individual Americans.