Health care debate needs increased student activism

Column by Richard Becker

When I arrived at the urgent treatment center last Thursday, I was unsure just what had been causing my cough, chills, body aches and feverishness.

Of course, I had an inkling of what it might be, but I didn’t know for sure.  By the time I left, I had been definitively diagnosed with H1N1, more popularly known as “swine flu.”

As I left, prescriptions for anti-viral and anti-nausea medications in hand, I handed over my health insurance card and was required to pay a mere 10 percent of the cost of the visit out-of-pocket.  The rest, fortunately, was covered by my insurance policy.

I highlight this encounter because of its unfortunate rarity.  Too many college students of all walks of life have little to no protection, outside of the basic services provided by the university, from catastrophic illness like influenza or more chronic, life-threatening conditions.

As a result, too many will be put in a position of either bankruptcy or having to drop out of school.  This is because at the same time that their healthcare costs are skyrocketing, so too are their tuition rates at this and other putatively “public” institutions.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, those aged 19-29 account for 13 million of the some 30 million Americans who don’t have health insurance.

That’s approximately four million college students who have no choice but to pay out-of-pocket when confronted with massive healthcare bills.

A study funded by the Heinz Family Philanthropies and the Chickering Group in 2002 also found that uninsured students are far less likely to finish their post-secondary education than their insured peers for the obvious reason I stated above: they are forced by these circumstances to leave school at least temporarily, if not permanently.

The solution to this is obviously comprehensive health insurance reform, but if there’s a student movement on UK’s campus calling for such reform, I haven’t heard about it.

Perhaps the reason for such deafening silence is that those privileged enough to have health insurance don’t care enough to speak out for their peers without insurance.

On top of this, those without health insurance don’t exactly have the time for much political activism outside of the responsibilities made necessary if they are to go to school and be able to pay for healthcare and other living expenses.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Political activism doesn’t necessarily require a full-time commitment and it doesn’t require one to be personally and dramatically affected by the issue at hand.  Voting is not the only duty of a good citizen; one must also be engaged in the issues of the day and become intimately involved in the business of governing.

Thus, the very least a concerned citizen can do beyond voting is contact the appropriate elected officials for the issues he or she cares about and speak out to that official.  U.S. Rep Ben Chandler, D-Sixth District, sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and will be one of many members of Congress who will have to vote on whatever health insurance reform bill comes up for a vote in both houses of Congress.

Thus far, Chandler has been reticent on health reform aside from the typical conservative Democratic boilerplate.  He has avoided taking a stance on either the president’s reform principles or on the specific provision of a “public option.”

The public option would provide an optional government insurance program to compete with private insurance and lower costs.

What could possibly explain Chandler’s wishy-washy behavior in this debate?

According to the non-partisan watchdog site, a site which monitors money in politics, Chandler’s 2008 campaign fund included $72,050 from “health professionals.”  And in his 2010 re-election campaign fund, Humana, Inc. is among his top five contributors.  The data should speak for themselves.

So what can you do, you ask?

Call Congressman Chandler at (202) 225-4706 and tell him to support real comprehensive health insurance reform.  Not only do we need his vote, but we need his voice.

It takes a lot for citizens’ voices to drown out the volume of cold hard industry cash, but it’s certainly possible if enough of us join together.  Take a moment today and call him.  Do it for yourself, do it for your fellow students, do it for a family member or do it for our nation.

But do it.

Richard Becker is a history senior. E-mail