By Ruth Conniff
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The American government, in my opinion, contributed to the deaths of my parents by not providing universal health care.
In every other advanced industrial nation, they would have received quality health care as a right.
Here they did not.
My father first came to this country as an agricultural worker from Mexico during the Bracero Program, and he and my mother settled in the United States legally, with work permits, in the late 1960s.
He later worked dead-end jobs in different factories while my mother labored as a domestic worker — cleaning the homes of countless middle-class Americans — for more than 40 years.
Neither of them accumulated enough wealth to afford a home of their own for my siblings and me, much less afford private health care.
My father died in 1996 after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer. My mother died earlier this year after a major stroke left her bedridden for many months.
If only my father and mother had access to government-supported health care before the symptoms of prostate cancer and heart problems reached a critical stage, they might have lived many years longer.
Most doctors will tell a patient, for example, that with regular checkups, proper diet, medications and exercise, severe medical conditions such as prostate cancer and heart complications can be treatable. But they couldn’t afford the regular checkups that could have extended their lives.
We need universal health care in this country, or at the very least a public option that will cover the 47 million Americans without coverage today.
Isn’t it hypocritical that the conservatives in Congress who ferociously attack the public option themselves benefit from a public option. As taxpayers, we not only pay their salaries but we also provide them with a health care insurance plan they can access. And if they are seniors or veterans, they’re already covered by a public option that works well: Medicare or Veterans Affairs.
It makes no sense for President Obama and Democrats in Congress to reach a bipartisan agreement with a conservative party that is beholden to special interests — the existing private health care industry — and that is diametrically opposed to domestic government programs that benefit the public.
At the end of the day, any bill that excludes a public option would represent just another case of corporate power prevailing over the public interest, of Wall Street conquering Main Street.
Once again, the less fortunate would lose out to people of privilege, who could afford the skyrocketing costs of premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
It was just these costs that my parents couldn’t cover — and they paid with their lives.
Now, my 10-year-old son, Joaquin, has no paternal grandparents. He misses them. So does my wife, Antonia. And so do I.
Alvaro Huerta is a Ph.D. student in the department of city and regional planning at the University of California — Berkeley and a visiting scholar at the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.