Commentary – The Urgent Need for Humane Health Care

“The Most Shocking and Inhumane” 

By Barry Hermanson

Before July 30, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation to establish Medicare and Medicaid, hospitals were mostly for whites. This landmark legislation 55 years ago, forced hospitals to integrate.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1966.

“Medicare and Medicaid dramatically changed healthcare in the U.S. Millions gained access to services. Elderly, low-income adults, children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.,” according to (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services).

Another landmark achievement was the expansion of coverage to many middle-income workers with the implementation of Obamacare. This legislation provided better health care to many, but still left more than 40 million uninsured. Millions more can’t afford to use their insurance because of the cost of deductibles and co-pays. Inhumane.

Health care in the United States is primarily a for-profit commodity offered to those who can pay. The U.S., unlike 35 other developed countries, relies on “free market” health care. Drug companies, insurers and many hospitals (even so-called non-profits) make enormous profits. If you can’t pay, you don’t get health care. Not enough of us are shocked by that. 

For-profit health care does not provide public health care. More than 175,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 this year. A functioning public health care system could have saved many of those lives. How many more will die?

Last April, I wrote, Got Covid-19? You’re on your own. The pandemic is also teaching us that job-based healthcare insurance doesn’t work. Millions are losing their insurance when they become unemployed. 

Health Care: Democrats vs. Republicans

Donald Trump’s agenda is to destroy Obamacare. Republican legislators favor removing all/most current healthcare for-profit constraints. Joe Biden wants to protect Obamacare and fight for incremental improvements. Both keep us tied to for-profit health care. 

Shelter-in-place was mandated on March 17 in San Francisco. More than five months into a pandemic, insurance companies are raking in record profits. Politicians at a national, state and local level continue to be silent about health care for everyone. Apparently, it isn’t a concern of our elected “leaders”. They, of course, have excellent health benefits. Political donations from the healthcare industry stifles debate.

Legislators in California recently extended the time to apply for Covered California healthcare insurance. An incremental improvement to Obamacare. How does an unemployed worker pay premiums? Everyone needs health care. Inhumane.

The Healthy California for All Commission was established shortly before the pandemic and is working “to develop a plan for advancing progress toward achieving a healthcare delivery system for California that provides coverage and access through a unified financing system, including, but not limited to, a single-payer financing system. The Commission will prepare an initial report to the governor and Legislature by July 2020 with a final report in February 2021.”

The commission was funded with $5 million by the California legislature and the governor. Democrats didn’t want health care to be an issue during the 2020 elections. Instead, “develop a plan for advancing progress.” Study the issue once more even though there are numerous studies already completed. Better health care at a much lower cost per person is available in 35 other countries. No legislation has been introduced while the commission is meeting. There is no debate.

I’ve attended all of the commission’s virtual meetings. Public comments overwhelmingly support an Improved Medicare for All. The commissioners act as if there is no urgency to their work. Consultants are proposing community-based “listening sessions” this fall to hear concerns from focus groups. They also propose a series of stakeholder meetings. In the middle of a pandemic, the need for urgent reform is obvious.

No urgency. No leadership on providing better health care. Shocking and inhumane.

The virus threatens each one of us. Anyone who comes near can transmit the germ. Everyone must have access to health care if we hope to beat the virus.

Barry Hermanson is a Green Party of California Coordinating Committee member,    GPCA representative to Healthy California Now, a statewide coalition of organizations and activists dedicated to establishing a single-payer Medicare For All system in California. Hermanson is a former small business owner. Contact him at or (415) 255-9494.

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