The late Georgia Congressman, John Lewis—may he rest in peace—was a fighter for health equity and an ardent advocate for health care as a right. Mr. Lewis reflected Georgia at its best and served all Americans in the process. As COVID continues to ravage the country, and as the race to fill both Georgia Senate seats comes to a head, we have a unique opportunity to build on Mr. Lewis’ legacy.
Government is what we make of it. The values and priorities of the people we elect determine our future. Now, more than ever, we need a government that works for us. We need to elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock because they, unlike their opponents, recognize that health care is a right and that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has the care they need.
Like most states, Georgia is seeing a frightening number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. In the last week there have been more than 5,000 new cases a day. More than 9,500 Georgians have died.
“Now, more than ever, we need a government that works for us. We need to elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock because they, unlike their opponents, recognize that health care is a right and that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has the care they need.”
Our health care system is broken, discriminatory, starved of resources, and unable to address basic human needs. More people are unemployed and uninsured, while health insurers are enjoying “an embarrassment of profits.” Clearly, we need major changes.
The toll the novel coronavirus has taken on Black Americans, Latinx, rural and poor people is especially, and unconscionably, high. One study found that more than eight in ten hospitalized COVID patients in Georgia were Black — a statistic that exposes other pandemics that plague this country: the pandemic of poverty and the pandemic of racism.
We need leaders who are committed to strengthening our public health system and guaranteeing every Georgian access to health care services. With $250 million in federal CARES Act funds, the state is working to get health care workers to hospitals that are unable to handle their patient load. But, that is not nearly enough to ensure everyone receives needed care, gets a vaccine, and is able to live a humane and decent life.
Georgia cannot address the novel coronavirus pandemic or our health care crisis, more generally, on its own. No state can. And, relying on the market to ensure that health care facilities have adequate personal protective equipment or that the cost of treatment is affordable is a recipe for chaos and suffering.
We need representatives in government who will pursue a national strategy that works well in each state. We need the collective muscle of policymakers from across the country to deploy resources where they are needed. And, the House and Senate must ensure that the vaccine is free to everyone.
Going forward, Georgians need better health care choices. Much as they can count on their Medicare and Social Security benefits, the people of Georgia should be able to count on having good health insurance. This isn’t hard. We are the wealthiest country in the world; we can afford it. Every other developed country guarantees their citizens this basic human right. We can, too.
What we don’t need are lawmakers who insist we can’t do what these other countries have done. These politicians are agents of privilege, not of the people; they advance the interests of the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations – or, to use another term, the medical-industrial complex.
The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, was a step in the right direction. It expanded healthcare coverage and prevented insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, like asthma and heart disease. But it was only a beginning.
Our health system still discriminates. It blocks people from getting care based on ability to pay. It sends poor people to their graves prematurely, unnecessarily, unconscionably. And it perpetuates racial gaps in coverage.
The vast majority of Georgians, like other Americans, are asking Congress to make health care affordable for everyone. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and all its protections.
If the Republicans hold their majority in the Senate, Georgians infected with the novel coronavirus very well might not be able to get health insurance. Health insurers could once again deny people coverage because of their pre-existing conditions. That’s why we must support the Democratic candidates in this special election.
It’s game on! Georgia voters hold the key to control of the Senate—which means they hold the key to our public health and our health care. To quote John Lewis, “We [must] stand up for what is right, for what is fair and what is just. Health care is a right and not a privilege.” Your vote this January for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will save lives and ensure a healthier future for all Americans.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.