Roger Ebert on Obamacare…

As we remember Roger Ebert for his remarkable career in journalism and film criticism and television and more, we wanted to spotlight his personal and political voice. He famously was silenced by a medical condition several years ago, but persevered to have even a louder voice through his writing, especially on the Internet through his blog and Twitter feed.

In his later years, his writing became more wide-ranging, on his personal experience as a patient and a political voice for social justice. Sometimes it was a letter to the New York Times or a tweet.

Always prolific, he wrote about Obamacare frequently on his blog. In 2009, he was in the middle of the fray, and wrote extensively on the term “death panels” and the public option, and then responded to hundreds of commenters with his sharp pen.

I believe universal health care is, quite simply, right.
It is a moral imperative. I cannot enjoy health coverage and turn to my neighbor and tell him he doesn’t deserve it. A nation is a mutual undertaking. In a democracy, we set out together to do what we believe is good for the commonwealth. That means voluntarily subjecting ourselves to the rule of law, taxation, military service, the guaranteeing of rights to minorities, and so on. That is a cheap price to pay…
It seems to me that universal health care is a win-win proposition. It provides an umbrella of protection for those who cannot afford or qualify for health insurance. This helps us all. Every time you learn from the news about our latest jobless statistics, consider this: A newly jobless person who was insured through an employee health plan is about to become a newly uninsured person. It’s for our mutual good that we live in a healthier society. To provide universal coverage is the moral thing to do.

In 2010, he celebrated the passage of the Affordable Care Act with this post at The Guardian. He had a particularly good post after the Supreme Court upheld the law:

The Supreme Court has done us all a kindness. Obamacare shows the human community working at its best. For me, that’s what it finally comes down to. If all of us, even the least fortunate, have access to competent medical attention, isn’t that a wonderful thing? The poor, the old, the unemployed, those with pre-existing conditions?

It is useful to keep the focus on the good that Obamacare will bring about. If you read the papers or watch TV, you can get caught up in a blizzard of confusing claims and statistics and political ideology. You might somehow get the idea this is all about raising taxes, or taking away your freedom, or that it’s an assault by the federal government on states’ rights. Those complaints are not about Health Care. They lead directly back to the controlling beliefs of the Obamacare opponents–that government is not to be trusted, that taxes are bad, that we must oppose “federal bureaucracy.” These are short-term political talking points, used from the first in the fight against this legislation. They were outlined by those who make billions from our overpriced health care system, and parroted by the beneficiaries of their shadowy PACs.

In the long term, Obamacare will work itself out and be perfected through countless tweaks and improvements. It is like that with all major new legislation. Remember that those groups who are most fierce in opposing Obamacare also fought against Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Federal Food and Drug Administration, and other attempts to improve the quality of life at the cost of corporate profits. Today they are lined up against measures that would regulate pesticides and work to slow Global Warming. Follow the money. Obamacare would help sick people. Opposing it would protect the income of corporations that feed off them–in part, by allowing them to abandon those whose “pre-existing conditions” might curtail profits…
My reasoning brings me back again and again to these truths: Health care is good. There comes a time in most lives when we will need it. Apart from the very richest sliver of people at the top, no one can afford to have a really major illness. Even with an excellent insurance plan, they’ll find there is a limit to the costs that can be paid. If they are so sick they lose their jobs, chances are their job-connected insurance will be lost, too. If they are lucky and recover, they’ll have a Pre-Existing Condition that makes them uninsurable. They can’t risk getting sick again.
Every Western democracy except ours offers Universal Health Care. It is not always perfect, and we are told horror stories about this or that case in Canada or France. In America our horror stories are worse, because they’re caused not by imperfections in a health care system, but by the complete absence of one. Many people know of at least one family that has been destroyed as a unit by the unavailability of affordable health care.
Of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we begin with life, which is free. Our political principles can, if are lucky to live in a democracy like the US, give us liberty. The problem with the pursuit of happiness is that without adequate health care it can be a very difficult pursuit indeed, and its cost could be our lives.
Some of the reasons the Supreme Court might have cited in upholding Obamacare will strike you as hopelessly idealistic. It could have been upheld because it addresses a need most citizens will experience. It expresses kindness and generosity. It is the right thing to do. No one has a hidden financial interest in UHC. It is the function–even the duty–of a government to try to improve the lives and happiness of its citizens. That seems so clear to me.

In 2012, Ebert wrote that his vote for President was based on health care:

I had great health for most of my life. Then in my 60s, cancer pulled the rug out from under me. Five surgeries, four rehabilitations, you don’t want to know. I was lucky to have good employment-based insurance. I maxed it out. Medicaid came to the rescue. Many people don’t have any insurance at all, and many companies are laying off insured older workers and hiring younger ones who are not being offered a health plan…

We need health care in this country. I suspect many of those opposed to it have never had to go through a health ordeal like mine. They may think they are well off and can handle their own expenses. They have no idea.

For your writing and your advocacy, RIP Roger Ebert.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.