I watched my patients die of poverty for 40 years. It’s time for single-payer.

By David A. Ansell

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Sarai was 25 years old when she died of Wilson’s disease, an inherited disorder that causes liver failure. A liver transplant could have cured her, but she was uninsured and was denied an appointment at two prominent Chicago transplant hospitals, including my own. Sarai’s plight was brought to my attention when a local religious group held a hunger strike advocating transplant access for Sarai and other uninsured patients. When she died, her congregation marched seven miles, holding her photograph and lugging coffins emblazoned with her name, to launch a sit-in in front of Northwestern University Hospital. Her death certificate named liver disease as her cause of death, but that’s not true. The real cause was inequality. If the United States had a Medicare-for-all health insurance system, she might have been saved.

In nearly 40 years as a doctor, I witnessed time and again how inequality kills. Those without health insurance, such as Sarai (there are almost 30 million in the country), often cannot access the most basic care, let alone complex specialty care. But the problem is more serious than a simple lack of health insurance. What insurance card you hold can literally be a matter of life and death.