David Louridas is an Adler University student pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration. He applies the knowledge gained through his program to modern human rights issues (in this case, access to health care).
In a 2011 interview with CNSNews, then-TV personality Donald Trump was quoted affirming, “It starts with increasing competition between … companies. Competition makes everything better and more affordable.”
For those familiar with Trump, nothing seems out of the ordinary about this steely, well-calculated statement in which he relays his purportedly keen business acumen and support for government non-interference. However, one might be slightly nauseated to discover that his response was to a question about the viability of the United States health care system.
Trump nonchalantly addressed the constitutionality and affordability of a system that provides lifesaving treatment and medical assistance to nearly 12.2 million people each year — Many of whom would otherwise have no access to care. This neo-liberalist encroachment of the free market system into arenas that aren’t normally governed by the laws of profits distracts Americans from the shared vision: A society’s health care system should provide access to quality medical care and improve life for all citizens.
According to Article 25 of the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of (his or her)self and of (his or her) family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his or her) control.”
While not particularly specific on exactly how this standard of living should be implemented, the declaration does clearly emphasize the human right to health, and fostering institutions that yield positive health outcomes to protect citizens amidst unforeseen events or tragedies. Any such system requires placing well-being front and center to drive administrative decisions and policy. Now the “leader of the free world”, President Trump should certainly should be well ahead of the health care curve, poised to set an example for other nations. But anyone living in the United States for a mere week will quickly realize the actual driving force transcending all sectors, including life-dependent ones such as like health care: Profit. Why is this so?
Author David Harvey and others have pinpointed the 1980s as the major turning point when profit began “trumping” all other factors. In his research piece, Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction, Harvey describes neo-liberalism as:
“A theory of political economic practices proposing that human well-being can best be advanced by the maximization of entrepreneurial freedoms within an institutional framework characterized by private property rights, individual liberty, unencumbered markets, and free trade.”
High levels of inflation and unemployment in the 1970s led politicians to declare the failure of Keynesian economics, expressing that state intervention simply “got in the way” of the invisible hand of the free market. Neoliberalism truly kicked into high gear during the Reagan administration. Decreasing the country’s minimum wage, diminishing workers’ rights, cutting taxes for the wealthy, and other measures increased social inequality and restored economic power to the capitalist class. Until that point, certain sectors of society — education, Social Security and health care — were generally protected from financialization.
However, as Harvey argues, the stranglehold of neo-liberalism created markets that didn’t exist before. The desire to maximize profit, efficiency and privatization finally weaseled its way through society’s moral cracks and into what were once protected sectors. Those areas were traditionally recognized as necessities not just to people’s well-being, but to their survival.
The ongoing debate about how to “fix” the United States Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) ultimately stems from the neoliberalist invasion into a system that, at its core, was built to guarantee a fundamental human right. Sacrificing quality of care and health for profit callously considers human beings as inanimate objects meant to feed hungry profiteers who seek ever-increasing financial gains from the medical machine.
Much like Karl Marx’s description of workers as cogs in a wheel propeling the capitalist system and widening the wealth gap between laborers and owners, health care patients are diminished to nothing more than numbers by the current system. The result? Capital accumulation in the pockets of an elite few, and volatility for the rest.
And what implications has the neo-liberal turn had on the United States healthcare system? President Trump and his Republican Party paint a very grim picture with the “repeal and replace” refrain they’ve been shouting since before the 2016 election. The president is wholeheartedly devoted to free enterprise. Without a new policy in place, he is seemingly willing to dismantle the current healthcare law, leaving millions without insurance or access to care. Trump’s blatant disregard for human needs is certainly not limited to health care. Others in his Cabinet, such as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, encourage solidifying equally sacred sectors like education with market forces.
Money’s intrusion on systems that are historically non-financialized might sever our nation’s already thin ties to the spirit of Article 25 from the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let us hope that time does not expire for the millions of Americans who currently rely on our health care system for their quality of life, and their longevity.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons