Why we Fight for Health Justice

The May issue of Democratic Left, DSA’s national publication, focused entirely on our nationwide Medicare-for-All (M4A) campaign-- the extension of Medicare, or a program like it, to every person in the country, regardless of income or background. The articles focused on how lack of healthcare affects various groups of people, such as women, people with disabilities, rural Americans and non-white communities. While these things are important, and some sort of M4A or single payer program would help both the population at large and specific groups like these, the vision in this issue did not go far enough.

In October of last year DSA Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky invited traveling healthcare expert and socialist firebrand Tim Faust to speak at New Spirit Oasis Church in Northside. Faust delivered a barnstormer of a speech about something called “health justice.” We recorded it and it is still up on the DSA Cincy/NKY Facebook page and is worth watching if you were not there that night.

The concept of health justice is a simple one. If the United States government takes on the responsibility of providing healthcare to its citizens, be it via Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, or a true single payer system, then it also must address the causes of health issues. Otherwise, the government is funneling money into a black hole, constantly treating the symptoms but never looking at the root source of the problem. You can’t cure sepsis with band-aids: eventually the rot will ooze through.

What sort of rot are we talking about here? A good example would be food deserts, neighborhoods with no local grocery stores. For people with limited incomes, living in a food desert is a substantial burden. If they have a car they must spend more on gas to get to a store in an adjacent neighborhood. Without a car they must sacrifice time to travel by bus, time they might not have due to childcare or job related burdens. Many may choose to go to local corner stores instead, where there is often a steeper markup on prices as well as limited access to healthy food. In short, any neighborhood without a grocery store suffers from added healthcare problems and grocery companies have no interest in building one in every neighborhood if it’s not profitable to do so. Currently, this sort of problem is not addressed by any healthcare plan in the country. That has to change.

Food deserts are hardly the only example of a healthcare problem that Medicare for All does not address. Inadequate or unsafe housing, lack of mental health treatment, the opioid epidemic, all may not seem directly related to healthcare but all have an enormous effect on it. It’s a hydra with ever-multiplying heads, as neglected communities often deal with several of these challenges and each one compounds the others. How can any healthcare system keep people healthy if there’s lead in their water, if healthy food is unaffordable and inaccessible to them, and if the local medical hucksters are getting them hooked on painkillers?

DSA Cincy/NKY has joined in the national DSA push for a M4A program, but we also advocate something more. Our Environmental Justice Committee is looking at the threat that lead poisoning poses to our communities. Our Northern Kentucky Branch is fighting for an improved syringe exchange in Newport after our initial success getting an exchange approved and launched to help address the opioid epidemic. We see stark reminders regularly that these issues are all interconnected. To truly deal with these issues we need more than just Medicare-for-All or single payer. We need health justice.

For now, the Health Justice committee of DSA Cincy/NKY is focused on getting the word out, traveling to a variety on neighborhoods in the area and canvassing for M4A. We want people to know that change is an option, and that there are horizons beyond the Affordable Care Act. But we are also asking people about their current health concerns and personal environmental struggles. We want to connect these concerns to the broader cause of health justice, so when the pollsters, political party canvassers, and pundits start descending en masse, both in the upcoming election and those in the future, they will hear more people advocating for M4A and health justice as something they want. The critical mass of politicians have not shown the willingness to make the large scale decisions that need to be made. That will not change until enough people make politicians’ lives hell, whether via the ballot box or direct action, for their refusal to act.

Many of the people we’ve canvassed so far have expressed interest in learning more about and maybe even joining DSA. In time, perhaps, they will do more than just tell the powers-that- be they want health justice. Perhaps they will come out with us and fight for it.