10/11/2011 12:01 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2011

The 'Odd Couple' -- Steve Jobs and Health Care as a Right for All

Since before the 2008 Democratic convention, I have written that health care should be a right for all Americans. Mind you, not in a legal or constitutional sense, but in a kind of human rights or moralistic way, like all industrialized countries view it except for us. I was not the first to articulate this message; its recognized roots can be traced back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 when he crafted his proposed 'Second Bill of Rights'. As more fully articulated by authors Jean Carmalt and Sarah Park in their article, "The Right To Health Care in the United States of America-What Does it Mean?" (Center for Economic and Social Rights (2004), FDR declared 'freedom from want' to be one of four essential liberties for human security. Congressional Record, 1941, Vol. 87, Pt. 1. His definition of freedom included, "the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health". This sounds strikingly familiar to the Declaration of Independence's life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As authors Carmalt and Park further wrote, "The right to health was subsequently enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-a 1948 U.N. document." President Obama reminded us of this during a presidential campaign trail debate with Senator McCain in Nashville in 2008 when he said that health care was also a right, and not a privilege or responsibility. Of course, Teddy Kennedy echoed these same sentiments, as has other prominent political leaders of the times in the lead up to the passage of the 2010 health care bill, the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. "Obamacare".

So what does all this have to do with the passing of Steve Jobs?

What occurred with him no doubt before his death---and brought out as well in a recent conversation I was privileged to have with a very highly regarded individual "52 years young" but who has been fighting Multiple Sclerosis for the last number of years---rekindled this notion of health care as a right. It was clear Jobs had the financial wherewithal to fight pancreatic cancer as he did for as long as he did in this country and elsewhere. The other person-though nowhere near the financial means of Jobs- has received the benefits of insurance and thus is more the person with whom the majority of us can align.

Juxtaposing these two individuals should not be a surprise to readers of this post. Disease and illness knows not of whom it strikes, but, regardless, it costs a lot of money to seek health and remain healthy in the U.S. The MS patient mentioned that one drug he took cost $40,000.00 in the open market for a year's supply of medication. And though that drug did not provide him with any relief measured in retrospect, it was the price of maybe, potentially, hope. So while insurance pays for most of what ails us, or we can pay for it ourselves like perhaps Jobs did, the problem is the 50 million or so who cannot afford even a single physician's office visit or who have to go to a hospital's emergency room for a case of the flu. Such stories are now legion; just look at the various free health care clinics around the country highlighted by MSNBC's Ed Schultz over the last year where thousands have come who could not otherwise have afforded care and treatment due to lack of insurance or other personal means.

We also have heard and read that those running for president on the Republican side want to see Obamacare repealed---if not by the current Congress then the next one, or certainly by the U.S. Supreme Court next year when no doubt it takes currently docketed cases in which the constitutionality of the individual mandate will be decided. (With such a viewpoint, I am sure those presidential candidates would more appropriately fit into a nice circus act somewhere (no disrespect to the circus business)). Without our health, we are unable to achieve all that we wish or can do---for ourselves, our families, our communities, our employers, indeed, even for the national economy too. Being healthy is not just for the wealthy or those with good insurance, so when will Americans wise up and realize that it will be an incredible travesty if Obamacare is ever defeated by those who want to see it overturned or hoping that the heart of it-the mandate-will not survive before the Supreme Court.

Jobs was not just only a leader in his industry, but showed us how fortunate the rich are in battling disease and illness but, to reiterate, knows no difference between the wealthy, the poor and those in-between that it invades. Should his ability to afford and access everything a health care system has to offer be the yardstick, or baseline, for how health care should be accessed and afforded in our country? Of course it should not, though politicians on the right seem to think that it should. Yes, Jobs had ever right to seek treatment as surely he was able to---but so should the individual with MS and, as if in microcosm, to the millions like him. Only without personal wealth, or a good insurance policy, there must be another mechanism in place to assist those less fortunate.

Jobs did us a favor by showing that the well off are not the only ones who deserve to be healthy. It is thus not a privilege for only those who can afford it. So let's give the 2010 health law a chance to work; to do otherwise is to strike a death blow into what FDR said about our health 67 years ago, viz, that health care should be a right for us all.

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