After World Health Day, it’s time to prioritize health equity

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On Wednesday, the World Health Organization observes World Health Day. This year’s theme is health equity – the idea that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. The U.S. still has a long way to go in order to achieve this goal. 

Health equity and equal opportunity are inextricably connected in the U.S. The costs of illness and poor health, as well as the benefits of wellness and good health, are unequally distributed among people. 

During the pandemic, we have seen COVID-19 disproportionately impact marginalized communities, especially those of color. Over the course of the pandemic, African American and Latinx households in New York City have reported losing their health insurance at rates two and four times higher than white households, respectively, according to the Community Service Society

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Throughout New York state, communities of color constitute 58.6% of the uninsured while only making up 39.6% of the population, according to the United Hospital Fund. Health care costs in the form of medical debt are also rising, disproportionately impacting poor people of color all over New York state. In Onondaga County, for example, 41% of residents in communities of color have been referred to debt collectors because of outstanding medical bills, compared to the 14% of residents in white communities. 

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the complex web of health inequities, including the lack of access to insurance and high medical costs that plague New Yorkers. However, it has also  given us the opportunity to respond to the threat by prioritizing health equity. 

One way to do this is by passing the New York Health Act, a bill in the state legislature that would address these disparities by making health care a guaranteed right to all New Yorkers. 

Opponents of universal single-payer health care will argue that a universal public health care system would be too expensive. In reality, studies of the New York Health Act and National Medicare for All have found that many taxpayers would be paying less than we do now if a universal single-payer program was implemented.  

Furthermore, health care spending will go down overall when we eliminate the bureaucratic  waste associated with private insurance. It’s important to keep in mind that the status quo is extremely profitable to those who seek to maintain the current system – specifically the health insurance industry, which has seen its profits grow during the pandemic and therefore will try to oppose sensible changes. 

Upholding a health care system that denies the marginalized essential resources is not only counterintuitive economically; it is also morally reprehensible. We must improve the health  system in order to create equitable health opportunities for all of us. 

By providing comprehensive health care coverage for every person who lives in New York state, regardless of age, income level, place of employment or immigration status, the New York Health Act becomes an important first step to fulfilling the principles of health equity in our state. 

This World Health Day, over one year into a devastating pandemic, we have the opportunity to  respond to the pain of COVID-19 by passing legislation to make healthcare a right. We need our political leaders to do the right thing by passing the New York Health Act as part of the state’s pandemic recovery.

James Appleton ‘21



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