Healthcare and Education: Still a Privilege and not a Right

Bernie Sanders officially endorsed Hillary Clinton. He’s officially conceded his position in the race and accepted that she is the winner of the Democratic nominee for the race of the President of the United States. Bernie supporters knew this would come but still lamented when the inevitable happened.

In exchange for Sanders endorsement, Hillary Clinton has hopped on the Bernie bandwagon for free college tuition for state universities and colleges. The New York Times headline screamed Candidates Join Clinton in Push for Tuition Plan Inspired by SandersBut, alas, upon closer examination, it’s the same old ‘means tested’, reserved for those that truly deserve it type of assistance:

Mrs. Clinton’s program, modeled after a Sanders plan, would allow members of families with an income of $125,000 or less to qualify for free tuition at schools in their home states by 2021. Funding will depend partly on participation by the states, but the idea has had wide appeal and will also be included in the party platform.

To break this down: it won’t take effect until 2021, it only applies to ‘families with an income of $125,000 or less’ and the biggest catch of all ‘funding will depend partly on participation by the states, but the idea has had wide appeal and will also be included in the party platform.’ Which really means nothing if the states get to opt out of such a program (Obamacare dejavu), and we can already guess which states will choose to opt out, those that need it the most that are south of the Mason-Dixie Line.

The Clinton campaign and the neoliberals took an idea by Sanders, which was one of his most popular platforms during his campaign, co-opted it, watered it down and is serving it up to the people as a bone the neoliberals are throwing to its voters. In the final analysis, access to decent high quality post-secondary education, just like health care, is ultimately a privilege and not a right.

A right is something that a person is endowed with by virtue of being born, by virtue of being human. A privilege or entitlement is something one must earn or be endowed with based on social class dictated by capitalism. A right cannot be taken away but privileges can be snatched away with the stroke of a pen.

Education, specifically, higher education, so crucial to the economic futures of people. Sanders made it a platform in his presidential campaign to provide free tuition to all students who wish to attend public state universities and colleges. It’s really caught on, especially with young people who are saddled with tens of thousands dollars of debt and no gainful employment after graduation. And it’s free with no strings attached, even children of billionaires could access this right. Hillary Clinton jumped on that saying that the wrong type of people (children of the super rich) will take advantage of it. But she would only take this view because she sees quality post-secondary education as a privilege and not a right. Because if it’s a right, everyone should have access to it, yes, even the grandchildren of Donald Trump. Because it’s a right.

President Obama wanted to do what the Clintons couldn’t do in the 90s, which is to pass some kind universal health care legislation where every person in America has access to good quality health care coverage that won’t put them in bankruptcy if they are uninsured or inadequately insured. His original plan was ambitious and that is to provide a single-payer system, basically Medicare for everyone (another one of Sanders campaign platforms). It would put individual, for profit insurance companies out of business and maybe the vast, expensive, overly bureaucratic medical services sector will be forced to streamline and for once, tend to the needs of their patients first before profits. What we got in the end was the monstrosity called Obamacare, an even messier, byzantine, convoluted set of bureaucracy, endless paperwork, endless cross referencing of doctors to make sure they are still on the same network as last year. Obamacare solved some problems such as people can’t be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions, children cannot be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, children can remain on their parents health insurance until they are 26, and pretty generous subsidies have been provided to families on middle to higher income brackets. Those who can’t afford any insurance due to under or part time employment or unemployment can go on their state Medicaid (if their state chooses to participate in the expansion of Medicaid, another caveat that left millions uninsured). Obamacare expanded the funding of Medicaid to states accommodate those who can’t afford to purchase any insurance – but states can choose to opt out. Those who choose to not go through the bother of unending paperwork and bureaucracy will be fined, but then that fine can be waived too if you are indigent. So on the surface, while it may not be a single-payer plan, it’s a markedly improved system. Two years after Obamacare’s full implementation came into effect, 90% of the people have medical coverage of one form or another.

But the devil is in the details. This is typical of Obama, trying to find the middle of the road, a grand compromise so that everyone settling for something is better than no one getting anything. Those that voted for Obama, find out fairly early on, that this is modus operandi for every important issue of his presidency:

The lawyerly and evasive Obama, who always tries to please everybody, as usual winds up pleasing nobody.

It’s like tossing scraps to angry people, demanding that they be happy with scraps or they get nothing at all. With the convoluted Obamacare, the insurance companies still get to do business as usual – which is profiting off of people’s illnesses and injuries, albeit on a lesser scale because 80% of the premiums must go towards patient care and not administrative and marketing and any premiums not used towards patient care must be refunded back to subscribers at the end of the year. But Obama’s refusal to shut down or reign in the for-profit insurance business, insurance companies have found other ways to stick it to the subscribers. Such as charging higher deductibles, out of pocket expense and out of network expense before the ‘real coverage’ kicks in. So the best insurance policy is still to not get sick or injured at all.

The single payer-plan is a brilliantly simple and straightforward concept. It requires no in depth explanation or fancy charts created by policy wonks to explain how it works. In a civilized society, who cares about its citizens and the human rights of all of its citizens should endeavor to provide quality healthcare to all, free of charge at the point of service. It’s provided through taxation obviously, but it’s free at point of service to all that need it, any time they need it, rich or poor it doesn’t matter. This is not a privilege or an entitlement, this is a right. It is right of every human being to have access to quality healthcare when they need it. No mother should have to wait out a 105 degree fever at home with a screaming baby because she can’t afford a doctor and if push comes to shove she takes her baby to the emergency room and she’s stuck with a $5000 bill for tending to a fever which could be cured with an anti-fever injection, doctored monitored ice bath and some antibiotics. Many countries have have implemented single payer health plan and it’s worked quite well. They range from our Canadian neighbors to the north, to most of the EU countries and the UK. Yes, the cost is significant, especially as the baby boomers in each country age, but all in all, it’s a fair and equitable system where contribution and access balances each other out in the long run. And if Cuba, one of the most economically sanctioned, economically deprived countries in the world can provide universal healthcare to its citizens, what excuse is there for the richest nation in the world. And they don’t just provide the basics, they provide excellent healthcare, better than the United States. Doctors in Cuba have learned to stretch what little resources they have to make sure everyone’s healthcare needs are looked after. So, it’s not about the money or the cost, or the aging population, or smoking, or obesity, or heart disease. It’s about privilege. It’s about making sure insurance companies get richer and make more profit off the backs of the sick and injured. The elite want to keep good quality healthcare to themselves and everyone else has to make do with scraps. For all the lawmakers that strongly opposed the watered down health care reform to be known as Obamacare, they (and their immediate families) got to enjoy the best health insurance coverage that exists, offered only to high level federal employees, something that was conferred to them on the basis of their elected positions, but they don’t want to extend that privilege to everyone else.

It’s the same when it comes to education: good, high quality college education, where students graduate without debt only belongs to the elite. Only the children of the elite get to graduate college without debt. And in the new plan put forth by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic platform, only parents who make less than $125,000 per year, can their children then enjoy the privilege of attending a state university for free. So, if they make $125,500 – they’ve been shut out of this privilege because they exceeded the bottom income by $500. Why not make it free for all students? Yes, even the children of billionaires, should they wish to  mingle with those less fortunate than they, it should be seen as an investment in the future of this country. World War II veterans got the G.I. Bill and FHA loans to get a jump start in their economic futures, which then created the most prosperous generation the world has ever seen, why can’t we take that approach again with our future generations by funding their college educations for free with no strings attached. This is investment in human capital.

In the new-age quackery of ‘I am special just by being me, because I exist’ mentality, everyone tries to outdo each other in the ‘special’ department. To be special also means to be privileged in some way by having access to things that others don’t, more importantly, if everyone has what you’ve got, then you are not special enough. If everyone has access to good health care, get the doctor they want without the hassle or jumping through a million hoops, and paying through the nose just to get an appointment with a specialist then they are no longer special. If everyone can get into University of Texas – Dallas Campus, one of the best public universities in Texas, then poor Abigail Fisher is no longer the special snowflake that her mother told her she was. Especially if she was weeded out by her own mediocrity and not affirmative action quotas; an obvious and simple fact she won’t accept.

Because things that should have been a basic human right which have, through neoliberal policies, been turned into a privilege, everyone now is ‘checking their privilege’ and keeping score on who has more privilege based on what they have access to because of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender identity and whatever intersections I haven’t thought of yet, and the list never ends. Countless articles, blog entries, books, newspaper bylines have expounded on the subject of ‘privilege’, who’s got it and how much of it.

When trillions are spent overseas in the wars in the illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan over a period of 12 years, spent without any accountability to the taxpayers; do not tell the American people that a single-payer health care is too expensive or free tuition for state colleges is unfeasible, or reduce the already meager social security benefits or means test Medicare. There is plenty of money to go around, it’s just being spent in the wrong place.

That’s what the neoliberal view reduces us to: men and women so confronted by the hassle of everyday life that we’re either forced to master it, like the wunderkinder of the blogosphere, or become its slaves. We’re either athletes of the market or the support staff who tend to the race. – Corey Robin

When everyone has access to basic rights which allows them to prosper and get ahead without needing to access some form of privilege (which, in other words, someone somewhere is being denied theirs so that you can have yours), the whole futile and often comical exercise of privilege checking will lose its purpose (and hopefully go out of fashion). If the 99% is scraping the bottom of the barrel to survive on scraps the 1% tosses out, does it really matter that Kevin the Asian kid has ‘more’ privilege because he’s Asian and not black? All this privilege checking is just a distraction the neoliberals want us to engage in to divert our attention from the real cause of all this and that is profound social and economical inequality. Corruption and manipulation of economic markets at the highest level of banking and government and the people who are elected to serve the people of this country are just serving their own interests, lining their own pockets.

The way to do that is not to immerse people even more in the ways and means of the market, but to give them time and space to get out of it. That’s what a good welfare state, real social democracy, does: rather than being consumed by life, it allows you to make your life. Freely. One less bell to answer, not one more. – Corey Robin

Half baked measures like this means-tested free tuition for state universities, only if the state chooses to participate in the program should be rejected in its entirety by the Left, it’s all or nothing. No more of this Obama, wishy-washy, in the middle of the road, trying to please everyone nonsense. The results of the last eight years show, when you try to please everybody, no real progress is ever made, just band aid measures to paper over the cracks.

10 thoughts on “Healthcare and Education: Still a Privilege and not a Right

  1. Just to add to this, most state universities are land grand universities, meaning they were built on public land (stolen from the Indians), and are essentially public property. Charging tuition is actually a betrayal of their original mission.

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      1. Clinton’s main criticism of “medicaid for all” during the debates was that it gave the states too much power. Now she and Sanders (since I assume he had an active part in the draft) are going to make that part of their tuition plan.

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  2. Hey there, it’s been a while! I agree that too much money is being spent in the wrong places (overseas wars etc.), but disagree fundamentally with your assertion that education and healthcare are rights as opposed to privileges.
    A common litmus test for a ‘right’ as opposed to a ‘privilege’ is that a right need not be provided by anyone else. For example, I have a right to life. But that doesn’t mean I’m entitled to be kept on life support indefinitely. It simply means that others must not rob me of my innate right to life by killing me. ‘Free’ healthcare and secondary education clearly do not fit this description since hospitals, colleges, and staff don’t just spring out of the ground of their own accord.
    You could argue that we have a responsibility to provide healthcare and education to citizens that can’t afford them–tbh I think that’s the better argument–but that’s not the same thing as declaring them a right. But then again, I suppose we subscribe to disparate world views. You might deem me a ‘neo-liberal’ since I believe that most interactions should be market-based, in which case I suppose you’d fundamentally disagree with my assertions! 🙂
    For the record, most health insurance providers are losing money through Obamacare exchanges; that’s why they’re leaving.

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    1. Hi! 1) Yes you are a neoliberal and I am not or I am no longer, I was – I think…without knowing it. I was brought up on or educated on the ‘neoliberal market based’ school of thought, believing that it’s the be all and end all to the world’s problems. Except it’s not and I don’t think I need to go into great detail why not. It’s fairly obvious.
      2) Your litmus test for a ‘right’ is correct on a very fundamental basic level “It simply means that others must not rob me of my innate right to life by killing me.” – but this does not allow for humans to live in dignity. Being alive does not mean living in dignity. People in impoverished third world countries have a ‘right’ to life and exist, but how is a life of grinding poverty with no access to any lifesaving services a life? Or living under constant conflict and failed governments? I believe that all humans deserve to live in dignity and to me that means, access to affordable housing, good education (higher education if they wish), adequate health care and a living wage. The simple fact of being ‘alive’ and be allowed to ‘live’ doesn’t fulfill that for me. We are not in a third world country, citizens of this country deserve better and demand better.
      3) Free health care absolutely fits this description. It should not cost $100-200 for a parent to seek a doctor for a child’s cold, flu or illness that can easily be treated, most families economy do not have $200 to take a child to a doctor – this involves, time off work, which means for some parents they don’t get paid, getting to the doctor (gas), paying co-pays and medicine. It’s a lot of money. And many in America, even those those who live in suburbs who seem well off, can’t afford to do this. Being sick means kids have to take time out of school, which means they get behind in school. All of this is unnecessary.
      4) Higher education is a right because simply without it, we cannot find a job in which to support our basic needs. Rents are sky high, cost of living only goes one way and that’s up. It’s ridiculous that a starter home in the Greater Los Angeles Area (where I live) starts at $550,000 or more. I am not okay with people being part time employed, perpetually underemployed, waiting for the next ‘thing’ to happen for them, nor do I find the ‘gig’ economy ‘hip’ or glamorous as the neoliberals make it seem.
      We are a wealthy nation (despite what conservatives say, we are not going to be swallowed whole by China because they hold our debt), NO ONE – in this country (and I include illegal immigrants) should go without my version of the basics.
      Educating the next generation is always a net plus – even the freeloaders or what not. Making sure the next generation has access to health services so that their lives are not interrupted by unnecessary illnesses is always net plus.
      I don’t understand why the generosity shown to WWII Veterans (GI Bill, FHA Loans) which benefited our favorite neoliberal (Hillary Clinton) which produced the most prosperous generation the world has ever seen can’t be extended to millennials and their children, who so desperately need it. No, Millennials didn’t go to war and fight the Nazis, but I’d argue that we have fought other battles that deserves equal attention.
      And I am not even going to get into the disparity of the above mentioned between PoC and whites, that’s a whole other problem that the ‘market’ won’t solve.
      As for Obamacare – that’s the subject of my next post. Lots to say there.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I did read it back when you published it…those charges look very familiar from my old college econ class. I just posted a comment…didn’t totally disagree, but largely.

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