Why healthcare costs are a civil rights issue

Fifty years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, healthcare spending as a percentage of the gross domestic product has jumped from 5.5 percent in 1963 to 18 percent today.

With that in mind, a Washington Post editorial calls on leaders commemorating the March on Washington to recognize the link between escalating healthcare costs and injustice.

The editorial points to the United States outspending most wealthy nations on healthcare but still trailing behind on health outcomes. For instance, a July study shows the United States spends the most per capita on healthcare across all countries but ranks last among Britain, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand for improving healthcare outcomes.

What's worse, the nation's excess healthcare spending translates to $1 trillion a year, the editorial noted.

It juxtaposed that figure with King's speech, in which he said "America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.' But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."

It asked how King would feel about the United States devoting a trillion dollars to healthcare that isn't needed for quality care rather than higher wages, better teachers, new infrastructure and world-class preschools.

"Getting serious about justice means getting serious about healthcare costs," the Post editorial states.

It turns out King made the connection between injustice and healthcare less than three years after the March on Washington, Forbes reported. "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane," King said at the Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966.

With roughly 50 million Americans uninsured and almost 40 million underinsured, the country hasn't made much progress on healthcare injustice since then, Forbes noted.

However, the United States continues to see slowed healthcare spending, with nationwide expenditures increasing 2.9 percent in June, down from the 12-month trend of 4.3 percent.

For more:
- here's the editorial
- read the Forbes article