Creative Commons via Pixabay.

By Matthew Conover

Just this month, I helped care for a man who passed away peacefully in the night.

It should have been a time of solemn mourning and perhaps relief for the family, who had seen their loved one suffer for weeks. But shortly after stepping out the room where he lay on his deathbed and they had just said their final, tearful goodbyes, body still warm to the touch — they asked their nurse for the social worker’s number.

The deceased did not have health insurance (having not been able to work due to illness, while also still having too many assets to qualify for Medicaid).

Grief still searingly raw, the family were steeling themselves to face the bill from his two weeks in the hospital.

The awful experience of grief and distress from health complications is something that I’m familiar with. Last summer, I was in a bad bicycle accident and spent two weeks in the same hospital where I work recovering from my injuries. Despite having a relatively “good” health care plan, I was on the hook for about a $5,000 copay plus fees for various medical equipment related to my care.

This is a far cry better than the hundreds of thousands my insurer had to pay for my care, but at the income level of a nurse aide ($11.50 an hour at VCU), the best I can do is to pay the hospital back in $100 increments for years to come. Had my accident occurred in Canada or the UK, where universal healthcare is already established, I likely would have only received a bill for the cable television I watched while hospitalized.

There is a bill in Congress, HR 1384, the Medicare for All Act of 2019, that would give every person living in this country health care. It would abolish all copays, premiums and fees, eliminating the financial burden of seeking health care in the United States. It would save thousands of lives every year; 45,000 people die every year for lack of insurance in the US.

Currently 108 congresspeople support this bill, including U.S. Reps. Don Beyer and Bobby Scott from Virginia. The push to win health care as a human right in the U.S. is as strong as it has ever been.

Yet while it has become an issue on which 2020 Democratic presidential nominee candidates must take a stance, the bill is still more than 100 votes away from a majority. Success is far from guaranteed, but across the country and in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, the work is being done to rally support and exert grassroots pressure on House members to cosponsor HR 1384.

In Richmond, the campaign for Medicare for All has been gathering steam the past year. In February of 2018, The Richmond chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America hosted popular healthcare advocate, Tim Faust, at Gallery 5, for a talk on the potential benefits of Medicare for All. Later in 2018, DSA members began canvassing in support of the bill.

In 2019, the Richmond DSA began collaborating with National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, and a barnstorm rally took place on Feb. 13 at the Metropolitan Community Church. Hundreds of other such events were happening across the country.

That night, a series of canvasses around the Richmond area were organized. At these events volunteers listened to 4th District constituents’ stories about our current healthcare system while raising awareness that a stronger universal healthcare bill is currently on the table in the House of Representatives. National Nurses United, the Richmond DSA, and members of the MCV chapter of Physicians for a National Health Care Program have focused their canvassing efforts on the 4th district. This strategy comes in light of Democratic U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin’s appointment to the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of two House committees that would have to hold hearings on and approve the Medicare for All Act of 2019 before it comes to a vote on the House floor.

Two volunteers have met with a McEachin staffer to inform them of our work, McEachin’s lack of support for single payer health care thus far and the inadequacies of status quo Medicaid expansion. The staffer put us in touch with the two members of McEachin’s staff responsible for policy. We are still awaiting a response from them.

The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would give every resident of this country universal health coverage, combining Medicare and Medicaid in a single program with no copays or income requirements.

The Medicare for All Act of 2019 does away with copayments, and thus no American resident would ever be denied care for lack of funds. Every year we maintain a for-profit, private healthcare system, thousands of lives are lost and countless more harmed for lack or deferral of care. With President Donald Trump and the Republican party threatening to scrap what’s left of the Affordable Care Act, the health, well-being and lives of thousands more are on the line.

So as we enter the policy debates endemic to our long presidential campaign, let us be clear that we need not only to fight off further cuts to the ACA, but to instead make the bold strides necessary to establish the best health-care system in the world.

Matthew Conover is a volunteer organizer with National Nurses United, a student nurse, nurse aid and member of the Richmond chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.