Healthcare is a Human Right

By Kristy Birchard

…is a human right is a series exploring how the fight for women’s rights is a fight for human rights. By analyzing and referencing the concept of “human rights” through a gender-specific lens, we do the ultimate service to the movement: we make the humanity of women inescapable and stress the intersectionality of the human race’s various needs. 


Please don’t try to tell me that young people don’t need health insurance. I can tell you from experience that it isn’t true.

Society assumes because I’m a certain age or if I look a certain way that I’m automatically “healthy” and that insurance is just an unnecessary luxury. The irony of that assumption is that I’m currently writing this while I wait to see a doctor and I’m sitting here wondering why I even need to write a post explaining why affordable and quality healthcare is a human right. Unfortunately, I do need to write this because access to quality and affordable healthcare is a privilege.

In conversations I’ve had about the Affordable Care Act and getting young people enrolled, some have brought up that my generation thinks we’re invincible and we don’t think we need health insurance. That assumption is completely inaccurate. Young people are not what you prescribe them to be and we are not always healthy.

While I can only talk from my own personal experiences and the friends/students I talk to, this quote explains how a large portion of us are ignored in these conversations:  “OCDC and Prevention study found that 17 percent of women ages 18 to 29, and 13 percent of men, have a chronic condition such as cancer or diabetes.”

I am part of that 17%. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, when I was three. I’ve seen prescriptions, hospital bills, premiums, deductibles, and co-pays every step along the way. I knew from a very young age that having health insurance was a necessary part of my life.  My parents didn’t have a choice but to have insurance; when you have a daughter that needs to go to specialists, endocrinologists, get regular blood tests, medications, etc. – what other option do you have? In college when I started to take on these responsibilities myself I remember thinking about my life and realizing that my disease had probably been a huge financial burden on my parents, but they did everything in their capability provide for me and never wanted me to feel guilty about it. Realizing how hard they worked to have insurance and keep me healthy made it feel overwhelming to do it on my own.

Across the country, folks struggle to provide healthcare for themselves and their families. And this is true on a global scale, too. The UN last year unanimously adopted a resolution declaring that universal healthcare was necessary for all nations around the world:

The resolution, adopted on 12 December 2012, urges governments to move towards providing all people with access to affordable, quality health-care services.

It recognizes the role of health in achieving international development goals and calls for countries, civil society and international organizations to include universal health coverage in the international development agenda.

The resolution reaffirms WHO’s leading role in supporting countries to respond to the challenges of implementing universal health coverage.

This concept has been increasingly recognized in international fora since WHO published the World health report 2010, entitled Health systems financing: the path to universal coverage. These include the Mexico City Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage adopted in April 2012, the Bangkok Statement on Universal Health Coverage in January 2012, and the Tunis Declaration on Value for Money, Sustainability and Accountability in the Health Sector, adopted in July 2012.

Health is an important cross-cutting policy issue in the international agenda, as it is a precondition and an outcome and indicator of all three dimensions of sustainable development. The resolution calls on Member States to adopt a multisectoral approach and to work on the social, environmental and economic determinants of health to reduce inequities and enable sustainable development.

When women have access to care, they not only prolong their lives but they thus prolong the lives of their children. When they have access to care, their economic stability – and thus, the economic well-being of their homelands – increases. When women have access to care, entire nations become healthier.

I knew that I needed to find a job with benefits after I graduated because until the ACA was passed, insurance companies could charge me more for having pre-existing conditions. Basically, the ones who needed insurance to stay alive were going to pay more for it. I’ve never understood this. You don’t ask to get sick. Why should someone be punished financially for it? If you want people to be healthy and take care of themselves, they need health insurance and health care needs to be affordable. The most frustrating part about our for-profit healthcare system is that corporations are profiting off our sicknesses while we are being financially punished for existing. If you have ever seen what medications cost without insurance, you understand what I mean when I say that not having insurance isn’t even an option. Most of my medications would cost me hundreds of dollars compared to the 20 or so that I pay for each of them.

The transition to being an independent and sufficient adult has always been scary because my body is dependent on insurance and everything I need covered.  Affordable health care is necessary not only for my physical health, but my state of mind. The Affordable Care Act has made it so people my age who have not been able to find coverage through an employer can get reasonable healthcare and sustain their physical wellbeing. It has made it easier for someone like me to be an independent adult. The ACA takes a huge weight off our shoulders because not only did it give me a couple years of leeway on my parents insurance, it also tackled the major issue of pre-existing conditions.  It is a huge progress for someone like me. Even so, lawmakers have been attempting to chip away at many of the important guarantees and requirements of the Affordable Care Act since it was launched: for-profit and non-profit employers alike have challenged the birth control guarantee (which alleviates millenial women of over $50,000 dollars over their lifetimes), and they’ve also raised hell about cancelling substandard plans that weren’t covering maternity care.

It’s imperative for people like me, and you, and everyone you know to tell our stories. Otherwise people will talk for us, make assumptions about our lives and our bodies and make decisions based on those assumptions. I will never stop speaking out about the injustices of the healthcare system that I experience daily. I’m extremely proud that the ACA has made important steps in the right direction to covering the people who need it most. I look forward to a world where healthcare is a right, and not a privilege.

The Campus Team will be hosting a Week of Action around ACA enrollment at the start of 2014 – if you’d like to be a part of it on your campus, email [email protected]! You can also sign our open letter to the SCOTUS asking that they uphold the ACA birth control guarantee in court.

By Kristy Birchard

Northeast & Mid-Atlantic Campus Organizer for Feminist Campus.

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