I am a pediatrician in southeast Washington, DC. For seven years, I have cared for a patient I’m going to call Shaun. I met Shaun when he was 13, newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and still adjusting to checking his blood sugar and doing insulin injections regularly. I earned his trust, because I never judged him when he had setbacks and I always kept it real. Sugarcoating is not recommended for diabetics. Together we have made his diabetes and his mental health issues manageable conditions that he controls rather than his conditions controlling him. He is now 20 years old, a graduate of a rigorous vocational skills program, and eager to get a job. Two months ago, Shaun told me he wanted to look for work in Virginia but then he would not have Medicaid like he does now. Shaun’s mother has become a friend of mine, and I’ve recently learned her health is struggling. She will not be eligible for Medicare for at least 10 years, and none of her 3 jobs come with health insurance. Fortunately, she lives in DC and qualifies for Medicaid, but if she lived in her home state of Texas, she would be uninsured. Shaun and his family are like hundreds of patients I see in southeast DC, and they are like millions of patients community physicians are seeing every day across America.
I greatly appreciate how the Affordable Care Act has made life easier for Shaun and his family. But their experiences highlight ongoing problems with our health care system. Uninsured African Americans are twice as likely as Whites to have no coverage because their states have not expanded Medicaid. Too many women and low-income families are stuck in Shaun’s mother’s situation: working multiple jobs with no health benefits and wondering if their health insurance premiums are worth so much financial sacrifice for such little return on health and well-being.
As a physician, I know what Medicare For All would mean for patients like Shaun and their families. It would mean peace of mind. It would mean we are finally committing to health care as a basic human right, no matter what you earn, no matter where you live, and no matter what you look like. Doctors like me and patients like Shaun and mothers like his mom have not worked our butts off to stay healthy and alive just for the insurance companies to price people out or for politicians to play games with the basic human right of health care.
When it comes to health policy, a lot of people quote Senator Ted Kennedy, but I want to echo his older brother. On this day 55 years ago, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to reach for the stars. Today I am asking my fellow Americans to reach for their hearts. “We choose to build Medicare For All! ...We choose to build Medicare For All now and do the other things, like cheaper prescriptions and rein in health care costs, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because Medicare For All will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills to improve American health care; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win ... “