“Cuba is able to provide free health care to all its citizens!” This is often one of the first points a supporter of the Cuban Revolution will mention in a conversation about Cuba in the United States. The need for a comprehensive universal health care system is one that resonates with almost anyone here as the brutal attacks by the ruling class continue to rain down on workers’ right to medical treatment. Most folks are one hospital bill away from losing what little they have left and don’t need to be told twice how terrible the state of health care is. I distinctly remember when my friend suffered a sports concussion and while sprawled out on the field in pain, snapped into alertness to shout, “Do not call an ambulance! I am broke!” before collapsing back onto the ground.
However, while Cuba’s ability to provide universal health care as a socially guaranteed service is certainly remarkable, what is often overlooked is how the Cuban Revolution has also brought about a powerful cultural transformation within the health system. In Cuba, because profit is no longer the basis around which all decisions are made, health care workers can make decisions based on human need.
To make clear the distinction, let’s use the example of someone developing a mild flu bug. In the U.S. even if you had the best health insurance possible and the cost of a doctor’s visit wasn’t a factor at all, you would still likely have a doctor whose mindset would be to provide you with a medical solution that allows you to return to work as quickly as possible. This is because under capitalism the entire social system is geared around productivity for profit’s sake. You would likely be prescribed an antibiotic, a steroid shot, and whatever else would alleviate the symptoms as quickly as possible so you could return to wage labor. None of the long-term consequences of taking antibiotics for such a mild affliction or jump-starting my immune system into overdrive with a steroid shot would be considered.
In Cuba the doctors can prescribe something that in the U.S. is almost inconceivable … to simply take time off to rest and let the body fight off the sickness through its own means! This is only possible when you have a society that is so organized and focused on doing what is best for people that one need have no fear of being punished for taking care of your health. Compare this to the demands of bosses here that workers in hurricane-ravaged areas show up to work or risk losing their jobs!
I was able to witness the impressive health care achievements of the Cuban Revolution firsthand when I traveled to Cuba for the Che Brigade in October of 2017. On one of the first days one member of the U.S. delegation developed severe back spasms, a chronic condition for him. We encouraged him to go to the doctor, but he explained that it’s always the same thing when he goes in. A prescription for pain pills and to “take it easy.” It’s no coincidence that pharmaceutical company profits are sky-high and that there’s an opioid epidemic in this country.
He ended up going to the Cuban doctor and he came back later that day with a huge smile on his face as he raved about how he had received an acupuncture treatment and electroshock therapy right on the spot and that his back already felt better. Not only that, but the doctor came and knocked on our door the next day to make sure he was feeling better and to invite him to come back for another treatment!
Finally, I must thank the members of the Socialist Workers Party who attended the Che Brigade as it was through their constant willingness to have conversations, impressive commitment to making books available and infectious enthusiasm for the Cuban Revolution that I was able to understand how it is the fact that the Cubans had a true workers revolution that laid the foundation that makes possible in Cuba powerful achievements like quality health care!
‘Our system is based on solidarity,’ Cuban revolutionary tells unionists
Fidel Castro: Our principles are key to Cuban Revolution
Excerpt from book by Cuban leader Armando Hart underscores moral strength of July 26 Movement
Che: Fidel spoke for all of us
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