“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. Healthcare in America can be incredibly costly and many people struggle to afford basic care.
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. So, if someone is struggling paying for nursing home when money runs out or perhaps needs urgent surgery, healthcare will be available.
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 Elders – the group of independent former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, of which we have the honor to be members – has 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.