Mayling Simpson: Will you be on the right side of history?
October 17, 2016
I have spent my entire career in global public health. For over 40 years, I have worked in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and at the World Health Organization in Geneva. I have been a public health advisor, practitioner and researcher. I have seen countries with and without universal health care.
After living in eight foreign countries for 28 years and working in about 30 more, I have seen about all there is to see in the world of health care.
When I returned from a month-long assignment in Rwanda last March, I told my friends with great enthusiasm that I had seen this small country of eight million turn around its health care system in a decade. In 2004, they instituted universal health care with a very small medical work force. Every citizen was required to join the new system, and the government trained hundreds of new health workers.
The new health care system brought life expectancy up from 42 to 66 years and cut maternal and child mortality by 60 percent. Universal health care was instituted as part of a package of reforms aimed at bringing equity and reconciliation to a society that had been torn apart by the 1994 genocide. Rwanda now delivers high quality health care to all Rwandans at an average annual cost of $55 per person.
If the tiny and very poor country of Rwanda can successfully implement universal health care, why can't Colorado?
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Nearly 7 percent of our population, 350,000, are uninsured and therefore lack access to health care. Even insured people are going bankrupt, losing their homes and raising money from friends and relatives to pay medical costs.
The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. health care system as 37th in the world, yet we spend over $8,000 per person annually, the highest in the world. We are not getting our money's worth. Why?
Because our health care system is funded by us through for-profit insurance companies. Up to 20 percent of what we pay goes to their profits, administration and shareholders. With a nonprofit health system, such as Amendment 69 on our ballot this November, those costs can be cut dramatically.
The movement for universal health care resembles other historical trends like the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage and civil rights. It has also met the same resistance — ridicule, dismissal, fear-mongering — followed by realizing the necessity for change, then acceptance and adaptation. With Amendment 69, I have no doubt that Colorado will adapt and change for the better.
Amendment 69, called ColoradoCare, will lead our nation in doing what Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and Barak Obama have all tried to do — get universal health care publicly funded through taxation.
More than 50 other countries have created universal health care for their citizens and more countries are moving to it every year. The evidence shows that it is the most efficient, effective and least wasteful way to deliver health care. Amendment 69 is taking all the lessons from these other countries.
ColoradoCare is the engine of a train leading the USA forward into the modern world of health care. When the Canadian province of Saskatchewan began universal health care in 1962, it took only 10 years for the other provinces to follow. When Colorado leads this movement in the USA, other states will hitch on. The federal government may end up being the caboose.
I feel certain that ColoradoCare is on the right side of history. If you vote “yes” on Amendment 69 Nov. 8, you too will be on the right side of history.
Mayling Simpson, who lives in Steamboat Springs, has spent her professional life in global public health, working for the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, the World Health Organization in Geneva and as a regional public health advisor for Catholic Relief Services in East Africa.