Commentary: Access to affordable health care is a human right

As Salt Lake City leaders focus on the health and well-being of residents, we believe access to quality, affordable health care is a human right. As such, we support Proposition 3, Utah Decides, which will implement the Medicaid expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Utah. We encourage Utah voters to join us in voting yes for Proposition 3.

Health care as a human right has been a point of ethical, philosophical and moral debate in our country dating back as far as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights,” the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid, continuing through President Reagan’s EMTALA legislation and the recent debate surrounding the ACA. We realize the argument for or against that position is not going to be resolved here. Instead, we want to persuade Utahns that a yes vote on Proposition 3 reflects who we are.

Because this is an issue of repatriating Utah tax dollars already collected rather than adding huge costs to Utah taxpayers, we have the luxury of making this decision based primarily on the moral question of who we want to be as a society. Historically, in the U.S. the foundation of community health services was charitable. Hospitals were developed by religious communities, cities, counties and states because it was the moral and compassionate thing to do. The societal commitment was to improve lives, treat the sick and be a community resource. A secondary motivation was that society benefits by providing everyone with health care by eliminating one of the biggest stresses to a person and their family. Readily available quality health care improves productivity and reduces costs to individuals and the community.

Healthy residents are better able to work and contribute to society. They are also better able to pay taxes and do their part to support thriving communities. The direction we were moving in as a country (as has been done by other industrialized countries) was to make healthcare a universal right instead of a privilege. Unfortunately, healthcare has recently begun to be treated as a commodity with profit prioritized over people. Consequently, access to quality healthcare has become rationed and limited through price rather than need.

But is that really who we are in Utah? Is that who we want to be? Do we want the literal life and death decisions impacting Utahns to be determined first and foremost by socio-economic status? Utah has a proud tradition of charitable giving and volunteerism. Residents already recognize that helping those in need benefits everyone.

Proposition 3 helps an estimated 150,000 low-income Utahns who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid under the current rules but who cannot afford private insurance. They are mostly the working poor, usually one medical emergency away from unemployment and potential homelessness.

This Election Day, we can decide if Utah is a society that will help give our low-income citizens a hand up before a medical crisis ensues, or if we want to wait and pay for increased systemic costs only after the most vulnerable are subjected to suffering, hardship, and ruin. Together, we believe Utah is a place where compassion and charity are core values. Therefore, we respectfully ask the residents of Utah to vote yes on Proposition 3 simply because it is the right thing to do.

Submitted by Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskuspski and members of the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission, Angela Tuiaki, Jason Wessel, Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Wisam Khudhair, Nichole Salazar-Hall, Kimberlyn Mains, Shauna Doumbia and Luna Banuri.