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Access to Healthcare Is a Basic Human Right!

December is National Human Rights Month, which raises awareness of The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration outlines all rights to which every individual is entitled. One of these inalienable rights includes access to healthcare; this ‘right’ is outlined in Article 29, which explains that a basic standard of living is a human right. The article states:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Article 29 acknowledges the importance of healthcare access. Yet, in the United States, this access is not an inalienable right. For many Americans, affordable, quality healthcare is a privilege only the wealthy or well-employed enjoy. 

While government-subsidized programs like Medicaid extend healthcare access to the country’s poorest individuals, many Americans fall through the cracks, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid or state aid. Medical bills burden many; this debt is so tremendous that Investopedia explains that it’s one of the leading causes of bankruptcies in the country.

Table of Contents:

Access to Healthcare and the Affordable Care Act

Medicaid Expansion and the Affordable Healthcare Gap

How Lack of Access to Affordable Healthcare Impacts POC

Healthcare Debt in the U.S.

What Can YOU Do?

FAQ: Healthcare Access and Affordability


Cancerversity believes that every individual has a right to affordable quality healthcare. Unfortunately, healthcare access in the U.S. is divided by socioeconomic and racial lines; Black Americans and Hispanic Americans are more likely to be uninsured.  

Access to Healthcare and The Affordable Care Act

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act and President Obama signed it into law, many assumed that the healthcare cost burden would be lifted, access to quality care would improve, and a once-broken system would be repaired. The Affordable Care Act fixed many healthcare system issues; individuals with preexisting conditions could no longer be denied insurance, children could remain on their parent’s plan through the age of 26, and low and mid-income individuals were eligible to receive subsidies to offset the cost of an insurance plan.

Yet, the system was only partially fixed. While everyone could access an insurance plan, the Affordable Care Act didn’t guarantee affordability. Why? Insurance companies hiked the premiums for everyone to offset the cost of high-risk (once uninsurable) individuals. As Congress seized opportunities to chip away at the ACA, access to affordable plans and quality coverage started to look very different across state lines. 

Person getting blood pressure tested

Medicaid Expansion and the Affordable Healthcare Gap

With the passage of the ACA, many states (including New York) expanded Medicaid coverage to ensure that more individuals and families didn’t fall through the coverage cracks. The ACA set eligibility tiers outlining income levels that received subsidies; the assumption and presumption of the ACA rollout was that those at a specific lower income level would receive access to Medicaid through statewide expansion. Unfortunately, many states pushed back and refused to extend access to Medicaid coverage. Individuals could neither qualify for Medicaid nor receive a subsidy for affordable healthcare through the marketplace.

Many states remain without a safety net for low-income families and individuals who make too much to receive Medicaid and too little to qualify for other assistance. The 10 states that have failed to expand Medicaid include:

  1. Alabama

  2. Georgia

  3. Florida

  4. Kansas

  5. Mississippi

  6. South Carolina

  7. Tennessee

  8. Texas

  9. Wisconsin

  10. Wyoming

How Lack of Access to Affordable Healthcare Impacts POC

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 11 percent of the Black population was uninsured in 2021. However, the rate of uninsured individuals was only 7 percent for white individuals. In addition, the uninsured Hispanic population was 19 percent.

Lack of insurance leads to a lack of healthcare access. When individuals cannot afford to go to the doctor, they might wait to seek care until a problem becomes a serious health threat. Lack of affordable and quality healthcare can lead to diminished life expectancy or a low quality of life.

When health issues become so pervasive that they are unable to be ignored, uninsured individuals may be forced to seek care at the ER. The high cost of an ER visit further perpetuates a debt cycle, leading to additional financial stress and pressure.

Healthcare Debt in the United States

Medical forms

Medical bills account for one factor leading to bankruptcy in the U.S. How many Americans are straddled with this debt, and how much do they owe? According to data published by KFF, low-income households and minorities face more healthcare  debt than other groups.

KFF reports that 57 percent of individuals making less than $40K carry medical debt versus only 26 percent of those making $90K+. Racial disparities are more unsettling:


Percent Owing Medical Debt







Data from KFF also explains that parents of dependents under age 18 are more likely to carry medical debt–58 percent of parents report owing healthcare debt. In addition, more women (48 percent) than men (34 percent) report owing medical debt.

Healthcare debt debt also is more pronounced in certain geographic areas. According to KFF, this is the distribution of medical debt (by percentage of individuals reporting the debt) by region in the U.S.:


Percent Owing Medical Debt









Medical debt was more concentrated in southern states. The reason for this could be related to multiple factors, including higher rates of both uninsured individuals and poverty. 

Forbes ranked healthcare by state, and, unfortunately, southern states ranked among the worst in the country. Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, and South Carolina earned the dishonor of the worst healthcare in America. Several of these southern states also failed to expand Medicaid, adding to healthcare disparities and burdening more individuals and families with healthcare debt.

Finding Help for High Medical Bills

Healthcare quality, access, and affordability should be a right and a reality. Unfortunately, for those who are underinsured or uninsured, healthcare costs can lead to financial devastation. Women are more likely to hold medical debt than men, and Black patients also are more likely to carry this debt burden.

When women face a devastating cancer diagnosis, cost and care might suddenly become a primary worry and, for many, bills mount into a stressful financial nightmare. Women who are facing cancer treatment without adequate insurance coverage have options. Many hospitals offer financial assistance to those who meet the eligibility requirements; typically patients receive a discount based on their income (poverty level). Some patients could receive a 100 percent discount.

Many non-profit organizations also provide financial assistance. Individuals who are struggling to pay for cancer treatments and care should contact a hospital social worker to discuss options. Social workers are the best resource for help in finding financial aid and assistance, and social workers also provide patient support and advocacy.

What Can YOU Do?

Cancerversity believes that access to quality and affordable healthcare should be a human right. Use your voice at the polls to support changes and laws leading to greater access, lower cost, and better healthcare for all.

Your voice and vote are your most powerful weapons against injustice and healthcare disparity. Contact your senator or representative if YOU agree that healthcare access and affordability are human rights. 

Find your senator via this search portal. To find your state representative, type your zip code into the online query tool. Your voice matters; use it to create change!

FAQ: Healthcare Access and Affordability

How many people can’t afford healthcare?

Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in 2021 the United States accounted for 27.5 million uninsured individuals (non-elderly). KFF explained that 64 percent of uninsured individuals cited healthcare costs as a primary reason.

Is affordable healthcare a right or a privilege?

Yes, Cancerversity believes affordable, quality, and accessible healthcare is a human right! No individual should be forced to go into debt because of medical bills, and no one should delay care because of lack of access to quality care. Healthcare is not a privilege, it is a RIGHT! 

How can America make healthcare more affordable?

There are several solutions for increasing healthcare access and affordability. A single-payer plan is one proposed solution, but other solutions are available. 

Who has the least access to healthcare?

WorldAtlas reports that Liberia has the worst access to healthcare in the world–with 14 doctors per one million people. The continent of Africa has the least accessible healthcare; Liberia, Malawi, Niger, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Somalia, Chad, The Gambia, and Mozambique round out the top 10 worst countries for healthcare accessibility. 

Does insurance improve access to healthcare?

Online medical consult

Yes and no. Not everyone has insurance that offers affordable costs for doctors, medication, and treatments. Some plans have higher deductibles, which increase the cost of these services. Other individuals have employers who offer top-tier healthcare plans, and the costs for all services might be incredibly affordable. Unfortunately, healthcare costs in America also change when an individual switches employers. Affordable healthcare can morph into unaffordable healthcare when employers decide to switch plan providers, too.

The Cancerversity Community is Here to Help

Use the Cancerversity community as an empowerment, education, and support resource. We are here for you. Reach out to us, post in the forums, and know you are not alone on any health journey. Together, we are strong.


Cancerversity opens conversations about cancer survival, statistics, treatments, and screening practices to bridge the gap in health equity for young women of color. The Cancerversity community welcomes young adult cancer patients, survivors, and their caregivers.

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