Activists Rally for Universal Healthcare

By Daphne C. Thompson
The Harvard Crimson, Oct. 27, 2014

Holding signs reading "Healthcare not warfare" and "Insurers deny, people die," more than 100 activists rallied at Boston Common Sunday to promote a single-payer healthcare system and an emergency global health fund.

The participants—including a Harvard contingent of around a dozen students and affiliates—marched the perimeter of the Common before arriving at the Parkman Bandstand, where they listened to several speakers describe the scale and severity of the global health crisis, in part due to the inequity of treatment.

Donald M. Berwick ’68, a health care policy lecturer at the Medical School who unsuccesfully ran for his party's nomination in the ongoing Massachusetts gubernatorial race, compared the magnitude of the health care campaign to the feminist and civil rights movements.

“A fight for a rational, humane, universal, sensible health care system which makes health care a human right—not just here, but anywhere—is a fight of that dimension,” he said. “We need to engage it.”

The Boston Rally for the Right to Health was one of many similar events taking place in 63 countries this weekend as part of the Article 25 “Global Day of Action” campaign, named for the section in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declares health as an inalienable right.

The activists gathered signatures to petition gubernatorial candidates Martha Coakley and Charles D. Baker ’79 to support a state-run, single-payer healthcare system in Massachusetts. A single-payer system would provide all citizens with comprehensive health care under a single, publicly-financed insurance plan.

“As cynical as it is, a lot of times it takes generational change for these kinds of ideas to become more ingrained,” said Frances Ding ’17, a member of Harvard Partners in Health, who attended the rally. “More and more people are looking to other countries and thinking, ‘why are they significantly happier with their health insurance?’ while we still can’t ensure health insurance for millions of Americans.”

Brook K. Baker, a law professor at Northeastern University who spoke at the rally, said that single-payer health care represents a more cost-efficient and equitable alternative to the current market-run system. Citing discriminatory insurance policies and pharmaceutical interests as tantamount to health rationing, he urged the protesters to pressure their representatives to invest in universal care.

On a global scale, the protesters advocated for a $20 billion Global Health Emergency Fund to combat epidemics like Ebola and strengthen medical systems in every nation.

“If those countries had access to healthcare to begin with, we wouldn’t be seeing this massive epidemic,” said Joia Mukherjee, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who spoke on the Ebola crisis. “There is not healthcare anywhere until there’s healthcare everywhere.”

Daphne C. Thompson is a contributing writer.