Delhi's health minister, Satyendar Jain, working the Aam Aadmi Party, has successfully championed the creation of a unique model of universal health reforms for all residents of this massive city. The poor can now join the wealthy in receiving 52 life-saving surgical procedures in approved private hospitals if the wait-time at government hospitals is more than 30 days.
This plan is touted as economically sound and has been endorsed by Lancet, Stanford University's Social Innovation Review, and by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The new health care policy is now up and running.
Owners of luxury condominiums and slum dwellers now share the same health care facilities for selected medical procedures. Those people who have insulated themselves by virtue of wealth now share a hospital waiting room with those who are, in essence, forcibly insulated by poverty. Silk and gold sit next to cotton and tin on private hospital chairs, awaiting the arrival of the same nurses and physicians.
I am struck by the inclusion of democratic principles of equality in this initiative. Class and caste-based hierarchies are leveled. The social psychology literature teaches us that exposure to "the other" leads to greater understanding across even the most difficult of boundaries. This, in turn, could lead to an enhanced sense of "we-ness" on the societal level.
Is there something we can learn from Delhi? Is such equalization of class (in the United States, wealth and racial) differences thinkable here? Imagine the large social good that could emerge from an economically-sound universal health care program that promoted the America ideal of equality.
In my years of administering children's mental health programs at a large community mental health center, I witnessed, much as I did working in Mumbai's slums, the dignity and vitality of people who owned less, dressed poorly and could not afford to live in areas that offered better schools to their children.
The schizophrenic living on the street had much life wisdom, discernible despite or even through his illness. It is humbling, even awesome, to listen to a mother who works three menial jobs a day in order to feed her children and buy them school supplies. Her sense of determination shines with a smudged-face nobility. Sure that schizophrenic, that mother and her children all deserve the care necessary to keep them healthy here, in America.