Is healthcare a fundamental human right, or a privilege for those who can afford it?
That's the core question underlying our country's healthcare debate. And it's the reason why each year since being elected I have worked with doctors, nurses, community advocates and colleagues to introduce legislation to create a Medicare-for-all, universal healthcare system in Rhode Island.
Every Rhode Islander should be able to access the care they need, regardless of their income. No family should have to put off critical medical care because of huge deductibles; no one should experience financial disaster because they get a serious illness.
Of course, our country and state have made incredibly important progress under the Affordable Care Act, and we should feel indebted to the activists and everyday citizens - along with our Democratic elected officials - whose impassioned organizing and advocacy have saved us from the chaos of Obamacare repeal.
But though we averted disaster, our healthcare system is still broken. We spend more on healthcare than any other country, yet we rank 28th for life expectancy. Premiums are going up and up while insurance companies like Blue Cross & Blue Shield posts millions in profits. Working people can't afford these premium hikes, skyrocketing deductibles, and hundred-dollar co-pays. We can do better.
We need a healthcare system that prioritizes people over CEOs and that puts the health of our families over corporate profits, here in Rhode Island and across our country. That is why I am so excited that this week Medicare-for-all legislation has been introduced in the United States Senate, and so proud that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse signed onto the bill as a cosponsor, and that Congressman David Cicilline signed onto similar legislation in the House.
This will not be an easy fight. There are lots of powerful interests with legions of lobbyists and big campaign checks working to maintain the status quo. But we should not let that stop us. It is time for us to think big, to be bold, and to make a real push - here in Rhode Island and in Washington, D.C. - to join the rest of the developed world in recognizing the dignity of every person by guaranteeing access to healthcare as a basic human right.
Aaron Regunberg is a Democratic state representative for House District 4 in Providence.