I attended a legislative town-hall meeting at Local 110 on April 19. The topic of discussion regarded the governor’s Health Net Bill — Senate Bill 577.
Several members of the public stated their concerns over the recent Medicaid cuts that impacted them personally and over 400,000 Missourians. The proposed Health Net Bill does little to restore any of these cuts despite an improved financial status for Missouri.
One of the individuals stating their concern was a single working mother with a child that has a life-threatening disease that re-quired medication three times a day. The Medicaid cuts impacted her financially, and she had to struggle to keep her 4-year-old child medicated and was facing bankruptcy due to her medical expenses of more than $1,200 per month. She struggled to keep up with the new co-payment requirements. These medications and his frequent laboratory work were vital to keeping him alive.
The question was posed to the legislators why wasn’t health care a right. Rep. Jim Lembke waved a copy of the Constitution in front of the assemblage and stated it is not a right because it’s not written in the Constitution. Lembke stated that our Founding Fathers did not determine health care a basic right.
Unfortunately with the Medicaid cuts, this little boy was being denied the right to life by his hard-hearted interpretation of the will of the Founding Fathers.
Just because our Founding Fathers did not specifically define health care as a right does not remove it from the discussion. At the time the Constitution that Lembke waved at the constituents was drafted, health care was limited in its scope of practice.
Antibiotics were not invented and surgery was rudimentary. Treatments were not scientifically based and usually involved emetics, purgatives and bleeding. Cure was done in the home by family members, and hospitals were set up for those who had no one to care for them.
Benjamin Franklin was a strong proponent of community health care and personally laid the cornerstone of the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1755 with the inscription “with publick spirit, this building by the County of the Government was piously founded for the relief of the sick and miserable.” It was the beginning of health care as a right of the individual and the responsibility of the government to provide access and services to those in need.
I appreciate that our representatives respect the wisdom of the Founding Fathers who drafted the document that set up a free society as a “noble experiment.” The Constitution was intentionally written in broad language to avoid frequent amendments and be flexible as the country changed in population, resources and needs as a result of growth.
But if Lembke still insists that health care is not a right because it’s not in the Constitution, the people can still respond with their guaranteed right of ballot initiative to put it in the Constitution.
That right is provided for citizens when legislatures cannot or will not meet their responsibilities.
Jan Polizzi, RN, MS
Editor’s note: Mrs. Polizzi is a former state representative and former Mehlville Board of Education member who currently serves as president of the Missouri Nurses Association Third District.