Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.

Martin Luther King Jr. made this famous statement in Chicago, at the Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in March 1966. One of the greatest American orators, his words inspired moral courage.  Just a few years earlier, only half of elderly Americans had health insurance coverage, and more than one quarter of non-elderly Americans were uncovered.  This was about to change — the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 took a giant step towards creating what Lyndon Johnson envisioned as the “Great Society.”  Today, virtually all elderly Americans have health insurance, thanks to Medicare. Unfortunately, the rest of Americans do not fare as well:  today, close to 10% of Americans are uninsured, and millions more cannot afford to use the coverage they have, due to high deductibles. 

We’ve created a “patchwork quilt” of coverage in America, consisting of employer-sponsored insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and the individual marketplace.  But the quilt still today is threadbare in many places and has holes in others, leaving too many Americans uninsured and out in the cold. 

As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday today, we should be inspired by his moral courage.  His words are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago. Tens of millions of Americans can fall ill, become disabled, and even die without treatment that is fully within our society’s reach. We need to strengthen our patchwork quilt of coverage until we get to universal coverage. Anything short of that is indeed inhumane.

Commemorating Martin Luther King with my daughter yesterday at the Lincoln Memorial, at the spot where Dr King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

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