Nearly 200 students, health care activists and professionals lit candles Thursday evening at Sproul Plaza on the university campus and spoke out against the widespread lack of health insurance .
The vigil, sponsored by the American Medical Student Association, was part of a week of nation-wide activities intended to raise awareness of those without healthcare benefits.
In Berkeley alone, more than 10,000 people have no health insurance, according to the city’s Health Department.
People in southwest Berkeley are more likely to die 20 years earlier than the more affluent living in the hills, said Marty Lynch, chief executive officer of Lifelong Medical Care, a clinic that serves the uninsured.
“Isn’t it outrageous that in a city like Berkeley, where people spend $400,000 to $500,000 on a house and people are working at dot-coms, that 10,000 people don’t have health insurance?” he said.
Lack of health insurance is a lethal problem, said Dr. John Shearer of the California Physicians Alliance.
Studies have shown that people without health insurance have a 20 percent greater chance of dying than those with insurance.
Uninsured patients often come to the emergency room with advanced illnesses, he said, because they could not get preventive care covered by health insurance.
This results in added costs to the patient and the hospital, he added.
Gregg English of the Physicians Organizing Committee said 7,000 people go bankrupt each year due to healthcare bills.
In California, 7 million people are without health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means one in five people are uninsured compared to one in six nationwide.
Of these 44 million uninsured Americans, 25 percent are children.
“It’s shocking,” said Chris Hamerski, coordinator of the vigil. “We’re the only developed nation that doesn’t have universal healthcare.”
Lack of insurance is not a problem for just the jobless. Nationwide, 42 percent of the uninsured are employed, according to the bureau.
“When you think about people who make minimum wages,” said Mayor Shirley Dean, “How do you afford (health care when you’re) making under $6 an hour?” .
Besides health insurance, many at the rally pushed for better access to medical care that universal healthcare would provide.
“We want medical care for everyone in the country, with no exceptions,” she added. “It ought not to be available only to those who can pay for it.”