USA: The Affordable Care Act and the right to health

June 29, 2015


In a blog on the website of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher on Health and Human Rights at HRW urges the US government to finally ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

Last week, the US Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act’s subsidy provisions, which is commonly referred to by human rights organisations as a victory for health and human rights in the US. In its ruling King v. Burwell, the Court supported the outlay of premium tax credits to all Americans whose health insurance is subject to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare.

In her blog, Megan McLemore suggests that the victory is a fragile one, since “for the second time in three years, expanded access to health care in the United States hung precariously in the balance. With so much at stake for Americans, the Senate should finally vote to ratify the international treaty that protects the right to health.”

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes everyone’s right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. The treaty has been ratified by 164 countries, including Japan, China, Australia and every country in Europe. It was also signed by the then President Jimmy Carter in 1976, but unfortunately “the Senate has not given its consent, leaving the US to stand with Cuba, Burma, Singapore, Haiti, and 27 other countries, many with records on human rights and health care that Human Rights Watch has strongly criticized.”

She concludes that “ratification would send a clear message at home and around the globe that no matter who is president or who sits on the Supreme Court, the US has a continuing commitment to uphold the right to health.”

Read the blog