Health care should be a basic human right in America, says Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon recently criticized the state of the U.S. healthcare system as part of his work with The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela.

Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations Secretary General. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
  • Ki-moon served as secretary general for the United Nations from 2007 to the end of 2016.
  • He said special interests are blocking the American government from pursuing universal healthcare.
  • 30 million Americans are not covered by insurance. A 2018 poll shows that more than half of Americans would support a single-payer healthcare plan.

The U.S. healthcare system is politically and morally wrong, according to former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Ban criticized the state of U.S. healthcare as part of his work with The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela whose work focuses in part on advocating for universal healthcare across the world. He urged American leaders to deliver fully funded healthcare as a "human right".

"It's not easy to understand why such a country like the United States, the most resourceful and richest country in the world, does not introduce universal health coverage," said Ban. "Nobody would understand why almost 30 million people are not covered by insurance."

Ban, a South Korean politician who served 10 years as the eighth secretary general of the U.N. until 2017, has been a vocal proponent of other progressive causes like climate change and LGBTQ rights.

"While swearing in as secretary general, I pledged I would make this world better for all," he said. "Nobody would imagine that there should be so many people – 30 million people – who would be left behind" in the U.S.

A snapshot of the U.S. healthcare system

The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world, even though, as Ban mentioned, some 12.2% percent of American adults lacked health insurance at the end of 2017, up from 10.9% at the close of 2016. According to 2016 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services:

  • The U.S. spent $3.3 trillion, or $10,348 per person, on healthcare.
  • Healthcare spending accounts for about 18% of U.S. GDP.
  • Americans spent about $1.1 trillion on private health insurance and $328.6 billion on retail prescription drugs.

Corporate interests inhibit quality of life in America

Ban told The Guardian that the sectoral interests of pharmaceutical companies and hospitals "inhibit the American government" and prevent it from working toward universal health coverage.

"Here, the political interest groups are so, so powerful... Even president, Congress, senators and representatives of the House, they cannot do much so they are easily influenced by these special interest groups," adding that he hopes some progressive states pave the way for publicly financed healthcare.

"It will be either California or New York who will introduce this system," he said. "Then I think there will be many more states who will try to follow suit. I think that's an encouraging phenomenon we see."

Do Americans want single-payer healthcare?

In recent years, there have been growing calls from the left and from some progressive politicians to implement Medicare For All, a single-payer plan that would guarantee health insurance and necessary healthcare to all Americans. And while most Democratic lawmakers have shown mixed feelings about pursuing a single-payer plan, a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from February showed that 51 percent of Americans would support a single-payer plan.

However, passing such legislation remains virtually impossible as long as both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans, many of whom not only oppose Medicare For All outright but also have tried to chip away at the less expansive Affordable Care Act.

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