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Former UN Chief Ban Ki-moon: US For-Profit Health System 'Politically and Morally Wrong'

It is "unethical" to deprive people of healthcare, which is a "human right," he says, calling for a universal, publicly-funded system

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on American leaders to implement a publicly-funded universal healthcare system. (Photo: Bart Maat en Aad Meijer/Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken/Flickr/cc)

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in an interview with the Guardian published Tuesday, called out the United States for failing to ensure that all Americans have healthcare, urged national leaders to implement a universal, publicly-funded system, and denounced the "powerful" private interests that continue to undermine efforts to make such a transition.

Speaking to the newspaper in New York City, where U.N. General Assembly meetings are ongoing, Ban declared that it is "unethical" and "politically wrong, morally wrong" to deprive people of healthcare, which he sees as a "human right." Noting that the United States is "the most resourceful and richest country in the world," he said, "Nobody would understand why almost 30 million people are not covered by insurance."

Ban's comments come as a growing faction of the American public, political candidates, and elected officials fight for a transition from the current for-profit system to a single-payer or Medicare for All healthcare system that guarantees everyone has the healthcare they need. Polling released by Reuters last month found a record number of Americans—70 percent—are now in favor of that transition.

However, Republicans in Congress and the White House as well as private interests that benefit from the existing system—such as pharmaceutical companies, the insurance industry, hospitals, and some doctors groups—seem hellbent on blocking any measures that would establish universal healthcare across the United States.

"Here, the political interest groups are so, so powerful," Ban noted. "Even president, Congress, senators, and representatives of the House, they cannot do much so they are easily influenced by these special interest groups."

President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress, though, have actively worked not only to block Medicare for All efforts, but also to take away Americans' healthcare by sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and limiting access to social safety net programs through work requirements and other restrictions.

"Leaders are elected because they vowed that they would work for the people," Ban said, but when it comes to those currently leading the country, "they are abandoning people because they are poor, then these poor people cannot find a proper medical support."

Pointing out that "people were not happy" with Trump "just undoing Obamacare" through various moves that suggest, in the words of another critic, "the GOP's healthcare agenda is simply to make sure as few people get health insurance as possible," Ban posited that there may be a positive outcome: "Ironically, it might have motivated people to think other ways, and influence their senators, and their congressman to think the other way."

Ban predicted that states with high populations of progressives may trigger a broader transition.

"It will be either California or New York who will introduce this system," he mused. "Then I think there will be many more states who will try to follow suit. I think that's an encouraging phenomenon we see."

While Ban believes a publicly-funded universal healthcare system may come to the United States through state action, some federal lawmakers continue to push for a national transition. Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) proposed Medicare for All legislation last year, backed by a "groundbreaking" number of Democratic senators. In July, 62 House Democrats launched the Medicare for All Caucus to work on single-payer policy that will guarantee every American "healthcare from the day they're born."

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