76% of Americans are in debt. 15% are being pursued by one or more debt collectors. 22% of Americans are too impoverished to qualify for credit. That forces them into informal debt like payday loans or worse, which generate interest rates of up to 500%. So add that together and we have the 99%.
Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee believe that no one should have to go into debt to cover basic human rights like health care, education, and housing. One in seven Americans is being pursued by a debt collector. Credit card debt is often the “plastic safety net” that covers for gaps in household budgets caused by financing such essentials.
Medical debt is an area of personal debt that no one from outside the United States can even understand. Spanish activists are campaigning against the privatization of their national single-payer health system. They see any payment for medical treatment as the breakdown of a decent society. The idea that people might be driven to bankruptcy by medical debt is literally incomprehensible.
But in the United States, we find that no less than 62% of all bankruptcies involve medical debt. Of these people, three-quarters actually had medical insurance. So many drugs and procedures are not covered, and so high are the deductibles, that an insured person can easily find themselves unable to cover their medical bills. Two-thirds of working households do not have the resources to cover a $1000 emergency. One hour of a specialist doctor’s time can cost that alone.
Even these stark figures conceal the discrimination built into health care for people of color, low-income workers and LGBTQ populations. More than half of African-Americans struggle to pay medical bills, compared with 34% of Hispanics and 28% of whites. Black and Latino New Yorkers are more than twice as likely as whites to be uninsured. Despite some progress in recent years, LGBT individuals are less likely to have health insurance, more likely to delay seeking medical care and medication, and more likely to have a number of physical and mental health problems.
Unfortunately, the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare) will not address most of these problems. It will certainly raise access—to expensive “under-insurance” plans with high deductibles and lots of out-of-pocket costs.
Strike Debt believes that health care that covers all a person’s needs is not a “Cadillac” plan but a human right. Such human rights should not be limited to top executives and members of Congress, who award themselves 100% health care coverage. No one should be driven into bankruptcy by an accident or an illness. In much of the developed world, these sentiments are just common sense. It’s a measure of how reactionary neo-liberalism has become in the United States that they are received here as radical.
“Life or Debt” is the choice we are offered. We refuse. Strike Debt. You are not a loan.