Several candidates running to represent Washington legislative districts discussed the benefits of a universal health care system during a Whole Washington event Saturday.
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Whole Washington hosted a Seattle March for Healthcare Justice at Seattle’s Othello Playground. Rebecca Parson, who is campaigning to represent Washington’s 6th Congressional District, talked about the opioid epidemic in her district’s Clallam County.
“Over a period of 6 years, they were prescribed 56 addictive pain pills per person per year, and now they have one of the highest opioid death rates in the entire state,” Parson said. “So one of the reasons I support Medicare for All is because we have an addiction epidemic in this district and across the entire country. And we have people who have literally died waiting in line for drug or alcohol treatment. They wanted to get help and they couldn’t get it.”
Parson said a universal health care system would also provide greater access to health care for Washingtonians living in rural areas.
“A big issue across the district in rural areas, especially in the Olympic Peninsula, is health care,” Parson said. “I’m currently in a for-profit driven health care system. You’re only going to find health care where it’s profitable to have it. And like a restaurant wants to be in a location where there’s high density, so does a health care facility. Because that’s where they’re going to get profit. So there are places in my district where people have to travel hours to get health care.”
A universal health care system would also alleviate some pressure patients might feel when seeking care at organizations that are backed by religious institutions as well, Parson said.
“Members of the LGBTQ-plus community—which I am—and then, in particular, trans people in the district have told me it’s a real issue getting health care because of the fact that the only nearby facility might be Catholic-run,” Parson said. “They face discrimination. It’s like, ‘I’m here for a broken arm, why are you asking me about my transition?’ So it’s a real issue for people not having publicly-funded [insurance]. I would like to see Medicare for All going a step further … Publicly-run doctors, hospitals, facilities, and not have our health care be provided by private, religious institutions.”
Stephanie Gallardo, who is campaigning to represent Washington’s 9th Congressional District, talked about health care from an educator’s lens. She taught history at Foster High School in Tukwila for 5 years before beginning her campaign.
“In my first week, I had a student who died from gun violence about a block from my school,” Gallardo said. “A week after that, we had a student die from cancer. And then the week after that we had another student who died by suicide. And that was my entrance into public education, seeing not only the difficulty, but the tragedy young people are facing. I saw so clearly how our public school system is not able to provide for our students.”
Gallardo said only 3 counselors were employed by the school at that time.
“Three counselors to work with [students] during their very clear, tumultuous, difficult time,” Gallardo said. “And we only had 1 nurse throughout the entire pandemic. So the reason I want to share with you their perspective as an educator is because health care is one of those topics that’s intersectional from every single direction, right? As a teacher, I saw firsthand how the failings of the health care system affect young people as they come into my classroom.”
Gallardo said teachers’ jobs would be easier if Washington had a universal health care system.
“Educators are made to do the work of multiple people,” Gallardo said. “We are to be the nurse, the counselor, the mental health counselor. We are to be diagnosing people because that is what we are forced to do, the position we are put in. Medicare for All and fighting for health care justice in our communities is something that will make every single industry easier because people will be healthy and people will be taken care of.”
Andrew Ashiofu, who is campaigning to represent Washington’s 37th Legislative District, discussed repercussions—including the possible loss of insurance as a result of job loss—employees face when they get sick under the current health care system.
“To be sick at work is an offense,” Ashiofu said. “I’m working for my insurance … I now have to go to work sick. We might call out sick, [but] it’s going to be punishable [through] company policy.”
Whole Washington filed Initiative 1471 to the Secretary of State in March, and members hope to gather enough signatures to place the proposition on the general election ballot. The initiative would create an insurance program that would cover all health care services for Washingtonians regardless of citizenship status.
Parson said it was important for Whole Washington to keep working to establish universal health care at the state level, as she doubts it will be done federally under the Biden Administration.
“We have a president who doesn’t want it,” Parson said. “So I’m very glad that state efforts like Whole Washington are moving forward. That we have this initiative, that they’re collecting signatures, that voters can vote on it and actually have a say instead of our completely bought-off, corporate-funded politicians.”