Santa Barbara residents like myself know far too well the consequences of our broken health-care system. Since I was diagnosed with ALS four years ago, I have not only had to battle this illness, but private insurance companies, as my family and I face boxes full of insurance paperwork and exorbitant medical bills. And I know that I am not alone.
Santa Barbara continues to rank among the California counties with the highest rate of poverty in the state, and the uninsured rate has consistently hovered around 10 percent. These are our neighbors, our friends, our family members who must often go without medical treatment or pay enormous sums for it.
But this problem is not unique to Santa Barbara. Even before the COVID pandemic, more than 30 million Americans were uninsured and another 40 million were underinsured, leaving them at risk of massive debt if they had an unexpected medical emergency. Now millions more people have lost their employer-based insurance when they’ve been laid off, leaving them at risk for medical debt or bankruptcy in the middle of a global pandemic.
Despite the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured and underinsured Americans increased under former President Donald Trump and the GOP sabotaged the health-care system to prop up corporate profits. Our families and friends have had their health care ripped away while CEOs continue to see their paychecks increase by millions each year.
Americans’ health and well-being should not be at the mercy of those who profit off of health care. Every rejected claim, every premium increase, every surprise bill is just another dollar in profit for corporate America. Even last year, amid the worst pandemic in a century, many insurers saw record profits while begging Congress for a taxpayer-funded handout.
Health care has never been more essential than it is now. Here in Santa Barbara County, we’ve seen more than 32,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 400 of our fellow residents die of the disease. How many COVID-19 survivors will be hit with crippling medical bills? How many of these people and their families will be forced to go bankrupt?
These countless injustices are why I and thousands of activists are demanding our federal, state, and local lawmakers to support Medicare for All — a common-sense policy that would guarantee health care to every American, in every county, regardless of their employment status. The humanitarian aspect of Medicare for All is the most important reason for this movement, but we can also not ignore that the policy would also reduce American’s overall health care spending by hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Thankfully many leaders and politicians are waking up and realizing the impact of corporate insurance on their constituents. Just last week, the Santa Barbara City Council passed a resolution in support of Medicare for All, following dozens of cities demanding an end to corporate health care. I testified at that hearing, alongside health providers, patients, and workers.
This is how we make change: from the ground up. This is how we drive support for Medicare for All — by talking to our neighbors, our city councils, our representatives and through grassroots activism.
We are in the fight of our lives. Corporate insurance companies and Big Pharma are spending tens of millions of dollars each year lobbying our lawmakers to keep the status quo so they can continue to profit and keep coverage out of grasp for millions of Americans. The fight against these giants is tough, but our hope and determination are resoundingly robust. I encourage our state and federal lawmakers to have the same courage as the Santa Barbara City Council, and support Medicare for All and end the corporate domination plaguing our American health system.
Ady Barkan is the co-founder of the Be A Hero PAC and an organizer with the Center for Popular Democracy. He lives in Santa Barbara with his wife and two children.