Education Is A Right In America, So Why Isn't Health Care?

by Elizabeth Baker
Originally Published: 
Two people assisting a disabled child in a wheelchair entering a school bus on a disability-speciali...
Elizabeth Baker

Dear world leaders, dear brothers and sisters, Education is not a privilege. Education is a right. Education is peace. –Malala Yousafzai

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane. –Martin Luther King Jr.

Most Americans place a high value on education, including me. We moved to our neighborhood specifically for the school district and local schools. Our medically fragile son Grayson, who was born with Leigh syndrome, a progressive form of mitochondrial disease, is currently thriving in public school. Federal law guarantees Grayson a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least-restrictive environment. Obviously, this looks different for each child depending on their disability. Grayson is physically and medically able to attend school full-time in a classroom dedicated to students with special needs.

Of course, Grayson’s education isn’t really free. Texas public schools are funded by taxes — taxes that everyone pays, one way or another. Whether or not someone has a child attending a public school, they are partially paying for that public school and the education of the children who attend.

I have never been told that my child isn’t entitled to an education. Why? Because education (at least K-12) is a basic right of all American children, according to our society’s value system. For the most part, we all willingly pay our fair share to ensure our collective children learn in the best environment, with the latest technology, and the most qualified teachers.

Never have I heard that our family is taking advantage of the system, is a drain on society, or should have planned better so we could pay for Grayson’s education ourselves.

But I have been told, over and over, that my child isn’t entitled to health care. Health care is not a basic right, according to our society’s value system. There are a lot of people who consider it theft if a fraction of their hard-earned money goes to pay for the equipment, supplies, therapies, nursing, and medication Grayson and other children like him need to live and live comfortably.

I have heard that our family is taking advantage of the system, is a drain on society, and should plan better so we can pay for Grayson’s health care ourselves.

Why is education a basic right but health care is not?

Not many would disagree that both the education and health care systems in our country are broken. Obviously, there are failing and underfunded schools, and more often than not, children in wealthier areas have advantages and receive a better education than children in poorer communities.

And then there’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who wants to privatize our education system with school vouchers, which will undoubtedly hurt children with disabilities and those from low-income families. This is, without a doubt, injustice. But no one will completely deny education from poor children due to their families’ inability to pay. And yet, this is exactly what the GOP wants to do with health care.

On our family’s income, we can’t afford private school for our children. Fortunately, public school is an option for us. All three of my children will eventually enroll in public school, and our income won’t be a factor in how many years of schooling they receive or what they learn in those schools.

Here’s the truth: On our family’s income, we can’t afford all the health care Grayson needs either. And this would be the truth even if my husband made twice the salary he does and I had a full-time job. We have health insurance (and yes, we are faced with yearly premium hikes just like so many other Americans), and we pay into the system. The cost of Grayson’s care that private insurance doesn’t cover exceeds our income. Affording his care without Medicaid is completely out of our reach.

Fortunately, Medicaid (through a Medicaid waiver program) is currently available to cover the costs that our private insurance doesn’t cover, costs that we could never afford.

We are not taking advantage of the system, draining society, or robbing you of your hard-earned income by keeping our child alive, just as you aren’t taking advantage of the system, draining society, or robbing us of our hard-earned money by sending your children to public school.

The United States of America prioritizes the education of our children, and its citizens both pay and benefit from that priority. Why can’t we do the same to make our society healthier and graciously care for its members who are sick or disabled? Let’s start treating and legislating health care for what it is: a basic human right.

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