As we face repeated attacks on universal health coverage from our federal government, we must organize to protect the ACA from repeal. Our campaign is in solidarity with the activists who have occupied offices and clogged the phone lines to demand our elected officials protect the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.
We must also continue to organize for Medicare for All. We support Kshama Sawant’s symbolic resolution that endorsed senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill and are in solidarity with the organizers and activists rallying our representatives to make it a political reality.
Beyond advocating for universal healthcare, there are specific steps we can take locally to expand coverage and improve health care outcomes for our community.
Expand Access to Healthy Housing
Substandard housing is a health and equity issue. In 2012, tenants across Seattle organized with the Tenants Union to pass the Healthy Homes ordinance, which improved living conditions for 27,000 renters in our city. Yet, too many of our neighbors, many of whom come from communities of color, still face horrific living conditions like toxic mold and cockroaches. We must create an Office of the Tenant Advocate, with the ability to represent renters free of charge and proactively investigate and penalize landlords who fail to provide safe living conditions.
Rapidly rising rents also impact health outcomes in our community. The term “rent stress” refers to a condition where upwards of 30% of one’s household income is spent on rent. The National Alliance on Mental Illness cites this rent stress as a contributing cause to adverse mental health outcomes. Massively expanding affordable housing in our city is a commitment we must make to our neighbors to achieve equitable health outcomes. That’s why we must require 25% of all new development to be affordable to working people and raise taxes on our biggest corporations to build 5,000 units of deeply affordable housing in the next five years.
Expand Charity Care
One of the primary ways low-income residents can access health care is through charity care programs at private hospitals. Under Washington state law, hospitals are required to provide free inpatient and outpatient care to very low income patients and requires them to provide discounts to other low income patients. But there is considerable leeway in how hospitals provide this care, how much care is provided and how this policy is enforced. As many hospitals in Seattle look to expand their footprints, we can expand access to charity care by requiring public benefit agreements to include charity care provisions.
Equitable Access to Healthcare
Far too many of our trans and gender nonconforming neighbors face obstacles to accessing healthcare that meets their needs. We must work to expand healthcare coverage that includes gender affirmation treatment and surgery, mental health services, and reproductive services regardless of gender. We can look to portable benefits or a municipal health care plan as a possible mechanism to ensure equitable access to healthcare.
Portable Health Benefits
Additionally, we should expand on Mayor Tim Burgess’ recent call for portable retirement benefits by putting resources towards portable medical benefits in the city of Seattle. As the Freelancer’s Union has noted, the lack of portable health benefits binds many workers to jobs they would otherwise quit. This dynamic exacerbates mental health conditions like depression, particularly among millennials working long hours in the dynamic “gig economy.”
Our local government can and must create the infrastructure needed to allow workers to take the benefits they accrue from employer to employer. We should identify progressive tax sources, like the municipal income tax, a head tax or a progressive business and occupation tax, that can fund these benefits packages at a baseline level, so that all citizens, especially our most vulnerable, have a baseline level of their healthcare expenses met. Additionally, we are eager to explore the creation of a Healthy Seattle municipal health care plan, modeled on Healthy San Francisco.
Expanding the Community Service Officer Program
Many of our neighbors lack information about how to access appropriate health care. In worst case scenarios, individuals suffering from mental health crises may face violence at the hands of police rather than treatment from medical professionals. We have an opportunity to better serve them with the Community Service Officer (CSO) program. CSOs are non-armed employees of the Seattle Police Department who can respond to domestic disturbances or mental health calls. They can also serve as mobile social workers who dispense information and resources about health awareness and care. We can employ CSOs to proactively inform our citizens about the best places to have their healthcare needs met.