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Health care is a human right

Michael Capuano

Rep. Michael E. Capuano represents the 7th Congressional District.

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Health care is a human right, yet efforts to expand access to coverage have repeatedly come under attack in Washington. I have long supported Medicare for All as the most effective way to expand access to health care. The United States already has a “public option.” In fact, there are three: Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare, which covers the military. We know how to provide health care to large groups of people and have been doing so with reasonable success for decades. The programs aren’t perfect, but they are working. This approach was considered during debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but there wasn’t enough support at that time to advance it. Little by little however, Medicare for All is gaining support as the blueprint to achieve universal coverage.

While the ACA has brought us much closer to universal coverage, the progress we have achieved is at risk. The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are cruelly focused on ways to undermine it in every way, through legislation, regulation and litigation. Just recently, the Department of Justice announced it wouldn’t defend the ACA in court any more, even though defending federal laws is one of the department’s basic responsibilities.

The DOJ is in fact going much further than simply declining to defend the ACA in court. The federal government is effectively switching sides by agreeing with a February lawsuit brought by the state of Texas. In that legal action, Texas is arguing the entire ACA should be nullified because the individual mandate penalty was repealed through the tax law. Think for a minute about what we would lose if this attack were to succeed. Insurers could once again charge more for consumers with a pre-existing condition or they could refuse outright to enroll that person. Insurers could charge more based on age or gender or remove whole categories of coverage from a standard plan.

There is still much work to do in order to achieve affordable, quality health care for all persons, regardless of race, gender, or ZIP code. Yet the Trump administration is singularly focused on undermining the ACA and thwarting the progress we have already made.

The ACA has helped increase necessary resources for community health centers. Supporting these centers has always been a priority for me because they provide a crucial link in the continuum of care. I co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Community Health Centers as a way to help increase support and understanding of the integral role they play in healthy outcomes for patients.  These neighborhood centers provide care and counseling, education and outreach. Attacks on the ACA are also attacks on every one of these centers.

Much more needs to be done to reduce troublingly persistent racial and socio-economic disparities. In too many neighborhoods in every corner of our country, it’s not simply access to quality health care that’s a problem — it’s also treatment outcomes. We see this in too many instances, from infant mortality and mental health to chronic disease management. Yet instead of directing resources to address these disparities and improve the quality of care, the Trump administration is only interested in sabotaging the ACA.

I will continue resisting the Trump administration’s attack on our nation’s health care system, while seeking ways to deliver resources where they are most needed. One way I have done so is through the Boston Public Health Commission’s REACH initiative, which directs federal seed money toward health education and outreach as well as toward increasing diagnostic screenings.  I also fought to restore funding for the Boston STEPS program, which provides resources to help with management of chronic diseases.  Both these programs target underserved neighborhoods.

Initiatives like these two are thriving in communities all over the country. The federal government should be making more resources available for such efforts, not devoting time and energy into gutting a law that expands health care coverage. Universal access to healthcare should be guaranteed in any civilized society that values the health of its citizenry. I won’t stop fighting until this basic right is recognized and established in this country. 

Michael E. Capuano has represented the 7th Congressional District since 1999. He is the senior Massachusetts member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Financial Services Committee.

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