It has been an historical year for the United States: two frontrunners in the race to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee were a black man and a woman. Without simplifying the accomplishments of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the impact of their candidacies on the future political environment of America should not be lost on the citizens of this country. Alas, there was something else this year that had never played such an important role in a presidential election cycle: the issue of health care.
Despite the temptation to suggest that it was Michael Moore’s SicKo that provided the impetus for this national discussion, I believe that it was a result of a tacit agreement between Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and the other frontrunner, John Edwards – who exited the race in its early stages – to finally address a frequently ignored problem. Consequently, health care became a central campaign issue for all three Democrats and each candidate had detailed plans on how they would make health care accessible to a greater number – if not all – Americans.
The relevance of this campaign issue became especially poignant to the Armenian-American community when, tragically, AYF member Nataline Sarkisyan lost her life because the deplorable policies of Cigna Health care prevented her from getting a potentially life-saving organ transplant. Cigna’s purposeful obstruction of the procedure led to an outpouring of Armenian-American activists, along with health care advocacy groups and individuals, protesting the insurance company’s decision to place more importance on their finances than to save an individual’s life. The ensuing debacle was nationally televised and the Edwards campaign even flew the Sarkisyan family to New Hampshire to share their harrowing experience with the state’s constituents in an effort to show voters the seriousness of America’s health care woes.
As the only industrialized Western country to not offer universal health care and as the country with the most expensive health care system in the world, the debate in the United States has intensified. This article will endeavor to explain what is wrong with the health care system in America, what can be done to change it, and how this is all relevant to the Armenian-American community.
What About Health Care?
In America, health care is the responsibility of each individual or head of household, in the case of families with children. That means that, in most circumstances, a person pays for their own health care and that of their children out of their own pocket. The problem with this system is that since health insurance is provided mostly by private companies, they can charge whatever they like to those wanting to buy it and oftentimes, those prices are too expensive for middle-income to low-income workers. First, this can make it difficult even for a person who has a job that pays enough to take care of their family’s basic needs (e.g. housing, food, transportation) but who does not have much money to spend on other expenses. So, buying health insurance for oneself or one’s children becomes a “luxury” that only some can afford, although a person may be working full-time. Unlike other luxuries, health care is a service necessary for all segments of the population and its availability should not be limited solely to those who have extra money to spend.
Also, just like the weather, the economy is cyclical. Most of you reading this have probably been through a few of these up-down economic cycles and you know about the consequences of each: typically, high employment and market growth during up cycles, low employment and market decline in down cycles. The primary concern here is with those who do not have jobs, not because they do not want to work, but because there is no work available to them. A person in this situation is simply negatively affected by circumstance and he or she cannot be expected to buy health insurance in order to be able to go to the doctor, if need be.
In the most loathsome scenarios, insurance companies will refuse their health care plans to those with preexisting conditions. This means that if a child has leukemia or if a woman has breast cancer or if a man has a brain tumor before they have insurance, the insurance company can – and most likely will – deny an applicant because of the higher likelihood of death. Because of the exorbitant cost of uninsured health care, this is essentially a death sentence signed by the insurance companies.
What Can Be Done?
There have been numerous proposals of how to solve the problem of uninsured Americans and, fortunately, a few were made on the presidential campaign trail. Because of the varied living situations of the American populace, most of the proposals have been multifaceted. For example, people would have the choice to either keep the insurance plan provided by their employer or buy into a reasonably-priced program offered by the U.S. government. Most universal health care programs would provide coverage regardless of employment status, making sure that unemployment does not result in the loss of health insurance.
Included in the health care coverage would be regular and unexpected doctor visits, access to necessary pharmaceutical drugs and insurance for health-oriented (i.e. not plastic) surgeries. Also, it would guarantee that those with preexisting conditions would still be able to afford health care, giving them a higher chance of surviving their illness. Such a system would ensure that everyone would receive, at least, basic medical attention required for a normal, healthy life – or, at least, its pursuit.
Where Do We Fit In?
Very simply, any of the aforementioned issues can apply to Armenian-Americans; unfortunately, one of them did and we lost Nataline Sarkisyan because of it. As Americans, we need to be concerned that many people who need medical attention do not receive it although they contribute their fair share to the economic well-being of the country and duly pay their taxes.
As Armenians, the tenets of our culture which have given us an admirable reputation as hospitable and respectful people should be parlayed into a sense of social justice that can be partially achieved through the implementation of universal health care.
It is, as I said, an historical time in the United States and if we, as Armenian-Americans, can agree that health care is the right of each individual, we can be a part of that history – a part of potentially the greatest social change this generation of Americans will ever see.