“The true measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable.”
This is the sort of clichéd rhetoric that politicians of every stripe appear happy to endorse. But if conservatives and liberals alike can agree on this principle, why is it that precisely when many Americans are most vulnerable — when they become injured or ill — they find society most indifferent to their needs?
The litany of grievances against our country’s current health-care system is no doubt familiar: There were nearly 46 million uninsured Americans in 2007, a number which has undoubtedly swelled with the receding economic tide. Health care spending amounted to 17 percent of America’s GDP in 2008, and health-care costs continue to rise at twice the rate of inflation. Worse still, patient outcomes for those treated in the United States remain poorer than those in many western European countries who, putting us to shame, spend far less.
If those figures fail to elicit a sense of moral outrage, consider the cascading financial pitfalls posed by the current system. For years, studies have shown that about half of all personal bankruptcies are triggered by medical bills incurred due to a costly illness — and, shockingly, the majority of those people had health insurance. Nor is the threat limited to individuals: President Obama recently called the rapid escalation of health care costs “one of the greatest threats not just to the well being of our families and the prosperity of our businesses, but to the very foundation of our economy.”
Students are far from immune to this crisis. As one of the largest uninsured segments of society, almost 12 million young people aged 19 to 24 were uninsured in 2007. Many of us here at Yale, now blessed by our school’s or our parents’ health-care security blanket, face a stark reality once we graduate. Expensive premiums and low salaries may lead many of us to forego insurance altogether, leaving us one accident away from financial ruin.
The current political climates in Washington and in Connecticut present unique opportunities to enact crucial health-care legislation that addresses both the crisis of the uninsured and runaway health-care costs. These two problems are inescapably linked. While a national solution for health care will undoubtedly require the resources and legislative authority of the federal government, initiatives underway in Connecticut to implement statewide universal coverage are essential. Connecticut can demonstrate to politicians inside the beltway and to the nation at large that universal health care is both politically and practically feasible.
Students must play a substantial role in lobbying for universal health care in Connecticut. The Yale College Democrats, in partnership with other groups on campus and students at undergraduate and graduate schools across the state, are currently leading a statewide student campaign to pass SustiNet, a universal health care proposal developed by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. This plan will not only guarantee health-care coverage to all Connecticut residents, but will also serve as a strong incentive for students to live and work in the state after graduation.
Yet the economic incentives pale in comparison to our moral duty as citizens. We cannot tolerate our nation’s rank as 37th in overall health among all nations of the world. We cannot allow men and women to die every day due to preventable illnesses. We cannot accept a health-care system that values dollars over lives. So call or write your legislators to tell them why students support a health-care policy that ensures coverage for everyone. We have the opportunity to help Connecticut’s most vulnerable. We cannot miss that chance.
Ben Stango is a sophomore in Pierson College and Mike Gocksch is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. They are, respectively, the lobbying coordinator and the health care events captain for the Yale College Democrats.