Calling health care a “human right,” former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the United States health care system as politically and morally wrong.
Ban, who spoke with The Guardian in New York where he is working with The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela, urged American leaders to enact publicly-financed health care to fulfill what he called a human right.
In his scathing criticism, the South Korean politician and diplomat cited the “powerful” interests of pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and doctors as the forces that “inhibit the American government” of having prevented the U.S. from moving toward universal health care, a failure that is “unethical” and “politically wrong, morally wrong,” The Guardian reported.
“It’s not easy to understand why such a country like the United States, the most resourceful and richest country in the world, does not introduce universal health coverage,” Ban told The Guardian. “Nobody would understand why almost 30 million people are not covered by insurance.”
The U.S. has the world’s most expensive health system, spending more than $9,000 per person, according to a 2017 NPR report. In total, that accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product. By comparison, the United Kingdom, which offers health care free of charge at the point of delivery, spends a little under 10 percent of its GDP, The Guardian noted, citing the latest available statistics.
“This is for the people. Leaders are elected because they vowed that they would work for the people,” Ban continued. “They are abandoning people because they are poor, then these poor people cannot find a proper medical support.”
More than 28 million people in the U.S. were uninsured in 2017, down from 29 million the previous year, according to information from the United States Census Bureau. Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, an additional 4 million people have lost health coverage, according to a recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund.
Ban, who led the United Nations from January 2007 to December 2016, has personal experience with the American health care system as he was covered by U.S. health insurance as secretary general. About three years ago, he said, he went to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription but because he forgot his insurance card, he was told the medication would cost upwards of $200. He returned with the card later and paid about $20.
“It was totally unfair,” Ban told The Guardian. “People like myself can afford [this]. But poor people cannot afford it. They do not have any support.”