Washington state has long been a leader in health care innovation – from the success of Cover All Kids, which has enabled every low-income child, including undocumented children, access to health coverage, to the most recent feat of establishing a health benefits exchange. That forward-thinking leadership has paid off in some ways: the number of uninsured in Washington has declined by 370,000 individuals since the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented one year ago this month.
We still have some distance to travel, though. One in ten Washingtonians remains uninsured, and many more aren’t getting adequate care. With so many families still facing exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, finding affordable coverage and care is still a big concern. But it goes beyond that: the failure to recognize health care as a human right is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. Nationally, 45,000 Americans die each year from lack of care.
These problems have been ingrained in our nation’s healthcare policies for many decades – and people have been organizing and fighting for universal coverage for just as long. Here in Washington, a group of dedicated advocates recently formed to launch the Health Care is a Human Right-Washington campaign. Endorsing organizations include single payer advocates, labor unions and community groups, all of whom have agreed to 12 principles that guide our efforts, including universal access, affordability, access, and equity.
The campaign’s first order of business in the 2015 legislative session will be to advance legislation that establishes intent to cover all Washingtonians. The bill recognizes the gaps in our current system and the resulting burdens faced by state residents, but notably, it also calls for universal coverage in our state by the year 2020. There are no funding requirements or policy directives included in the legislation, as we plan to develop the best solutions with policymakers and stakeholders in the coming months. Senator Frockt has agreed to champion this effort in the Senate, along with Representative Robinson as prime sponsor in the House. Both are enthusiastic about the bill and are committed to achieving universal coverage in Washington.
Despite much progress, our society remains rife with inequity. People are denied their human rights every day in our communities and workplaces. It is only by standing together in recognition of the tremendous injustices that disproportionately burden those in the margins, that we can bring those injustices out of shadows of our awareness.
While we are encouraged by the support of many organizations and community members, this campaign will not be successful without tremendous will of the people from every corner of the state. We are counting on the enthusiasm and vigor of community and grassroots activists to ensure health care is fully realized as a human right and universal coverage is ensured for all Washingtonians.
EOI is an endorsing member of the Health Care is Human Right Campaign. For more information, including a list of our principles, campaign materials and legislative updates, please visit: www.healthcareisarightWA.org.