Public Health Post: What do you think is the biggest misconception American citizens have about universal healthcare, and what would you say to correct this misunderstanding?
Rosemarie Day: A misconception that keeps getting thrown out is the label of socialism. Many people don’t even really know what it means and just assume government involvement in healthcare is bad. Another misconception is that we can’t afford universal care. As a society, it’s all about the choices you make — whom you tax, how much you tax, how you distribute that money. We’re a wealthy country, and we could easily afford universal healthcare if we chose to.
From the left, a misconception is that universal healthcare means Medicare for All, and that’s the only model. The good news is that this has raised attention to the issue of universal healthcare and gotten many people excited about it. Medicare for All is one path, but there are other ways, other viable paths, to fulfill the commitment to making healthcare a right that are more pragmatic for our country.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in achieving universal healthcare in the US, and what benefit would a women-led movement have to offer in addressing it?
Whether we want it or not, women are still left with much of our nation’s caregiving responsibilities. A disproportionate amount. Which ties into healthcare. The personal becomes political because we can’t solve these things at the household level; they need to be solved at the systemic and societal levels. The key is to make health care a right in this country. The key is to get people to wrap their minds around that.
You mention in your book, Marching Toward Coverage, that this isn’t just about healthcare and health insurance. How would a women-led movement begin to address social determinants of health as well?
In history, when women get mad enough, they make things happen. In the 60s and 70s, feminism and the things that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was fighting for opened a lot of doors for women. But the problem is we didn’t put the social support in place to actually help women truly be successful in the work world. We didn’t do the child care part or the paid family leave piece, and we didn’t do universal healthcare. The only way to get serious issues solved is through our democracy and through collective action to put pressure on the system, which is where activism comes in.
What do you mean when you say solutions need to be political but not polarizing? How can we achieve this on both a policy level and on an interpersonal level?
What saved the ACA was that people who came forward and had meetings and shared stories about preexisting conditions or children born with heart defects or other conditions. And it really wasn’t partisan. This is where women and our caregiving responsibilities tie in to humanitarian concerns. As a society, we can’t just say pull yourself up by your bootstrap, kid. If it really takes a village to raise a child, let’s come together and change the priority of where our tax dollars are going because everyone would be stronger if we had these safety nets.
How might a women-led movement overcome sexism and racism in order to be both successful and inclusive?
We have to find ways to be intersectional. Making things better for one group will benefit everyone. I really want more women to say ‘enough is enough’ and men, especially those in power, to be allies. We have systemic problems in our society and we can’t solve them alone. Action is about taking a hopeful stance and about bringing people with you.
A lot has happened since the Women’s March in January 2017, including a global pandemic. Is there anything you would add to your book or message to address anything new?
The pandemic only further revealed our profound interdependence on one another. In times of crisis, we realize the limits of individualism and turn to the government. When I wrote Marching Toward Coverage, I wrote about how employer-sponsored insurance is eroding and why we can’t count on it. Now, with the pandemic, we see all the job loss. We have to think differently. It’s only more important now that we get to universal healthcare.
What is the first step someone should take who is interested in taking up your call to action?
We have more tools at our fingertips than ever before. I created an activism assessment on my website where you can find lots of information on opportunities to get involved when you’re tired of just looking at your social media and being outraged.
Photo courtesy of Rosemarie Day