My arm is still a little sore from the flu shot I received earlier this week. I have been getting the flu shot for years and not only because I work in the field of public health and believe in good public health prevention efforts. But also because I am diabetic and fall into one of the high risks categories that entitles me to receive the flu vaccine, even though there has been a shortage of doses for the past few years.
This year was different though. This year I got my flu shot in Scotland where I was working for the Fall. I called up the National Health Service and got an appointment. The next morning I walked a total of 5 minutes to my local branch, got my flu jab and walked out the door without paying a penny. I was able to receive affordable quality health care with almost no effort on my part. I could do this as a visitor to this country and not because I had a job that provided me with health insurance or because I have the money to pay medical expenses out of pocket. Compare this to the situation in the US where over 46 million Americans find themselves uninsured. Almost 30 million of those fellow citizens without health insurance were employed. I am fortunate to have a job that provides me with health insurance and access to the insulin that my diabetes requires daily. But the number of people covered by employment- based health insurance is on the decline. One day I might find myself uninsured.
I believe that Americans have the right to a system of accessible, available, affordable, and quality health care. I believe this not only because I am a diabetic or because I work in the field of public health. But I believe that the right to health is a fundamental human right that all people are entitled to regardless of race, sex, nationality, employment or health status. The right to health is a birthright no different from the right to life or the right to freely express one’s opinion. Yet, the US is the only developed country in the world without universal health insurance for its population. If other countries have figured out ways to do it I have no doubt that the US is similarly capable. We simply lack the political will to do so. Human rights are often coupled with responsibilities and we each have a responsibility to demand of our representatives that they address the gap in health insurance that affects nearly 1 in 5 Americans. Health sector reform will no doubt be a difficult and complicated process. But only when the US has joined every other developed nation in providing universal health insurance to its citizens will we begin to fully realize the right to health to which we are all entitled.