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President Carter: Lack of Universal Healthcare Should Be a 'National Scandal'

President Carter: Lack of Universal Healthcare Should Be a 'National Scandal'
From TIME - November 8, 2017

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the inalienable rights at the heart of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. The text is as dear today to the hearts of the American people as it was when Thomas Jefferson first penned his words nearly two and a half centuries ago.

But these fundamental rights are denied to millions of Americans because they do not enjoy one of the essential foundations of a fair society: the right to health.

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is a target defined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it is achieved when everybody receives the health care they need without suffering financial hardship.

Twice in the last five years, all countries of the world have gathered in New York and committed themselves to achieve this noble goal, and it is the explicit health priority of the World Bank and the World Health Organization.

The Eldersthe group of independent former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, of which we have the honor to be membershas been campaigning for UHC at a global and national level for the past two years. We believe that it is as vital an issue for the US as it is for any other country in the world, and that with bold leadership from national and state leaders, it could and should become a reality.

Even after the Affordable Care Act slashed the number of uninsured Americans by about 20 million, another 28 million still lack any health insurance coverage. Many millions more who do have insurance still face unaffordable co-payments whenever they use health services.

In 2010, before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 26,000 Americans died prematurely due to their lack of health coverage.

This represents a violation of basic human rights. Millions of Americans cannot live healthy lives, or protect their children from illness or disease.

In a country as rich as the United States, blessed with talented medical professionals, world-class hospitals and research institutes, and an almost unparalleled capacity for technological innovation, the lack of universal health coverage should be a national scandal.

It is all the more scandalous given the extremely high cost of the US health care system, which takes up 17.1 percent of Gross National Product. This is 40 percent higher than the average for high-income countries, but the heavy reliance on private financing leads to severe inefficiencies and inequalities within the system. Around a third of health expenditure is spent on administrative costs rather than infrastructure or patient care.

None of this is inevitable, and a viable alternative is close at hand. For US neighbors and allies such as Canada and the United Kingdom, UHC has been a cherished element of the social contract between government and citizens for decades. UHC is also now an explicit Sustainable Development Goal of all countries, and some developing countries such as Thailand and Sri Lanka are already covering their entire populations.

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