Progress Notes

Health care is a right, not a privilege

The following is a review of the Beatrix Hoffman book Health Care For Some.

T.J. La
Ton La, Jr.

Global health doesn’t exclude our own national situation, and in many ways we set the example and the trends that we see in the world. Even the National Health Service in Britain is starting to become compromised. A lot of it has to do with this pervading market mentality of health care, and this is not something new. What is at the root of the success of this mentality is how we think about health care and moreover how we’ve been taught to think about health care as a privilege and not a right. This is the underlying issue that we have had historically in the United States. Before we can understand how we can make a change in something or where the important questions are, we need to understand what the problem is. As medical anthropologists are saying, the root of the health care reform problem is how we define health, illness, access to medicine, and how we treat the body. Specifically, is health care a human right? If you asked the person next to you this question, the natural response would be, “Yes, but it isn’t.”

In Health Care for Some, the author Beatrix Hoffman discusses what health care rationing is, how it takes shape in the U.S., and why coming to agreed upon definitions of health care rights and rationing are essential to progressive health care reform. The term “rationing” itself bears negative connotations since World War II and is viewed as un-American; yet, rationing health care has occurred for decades. Rationing takes place in the public and private sectors, and, moreover, health care is rationed based on price, insurance coverage, and demographics. Hoffman argues that these types of health care organization selectively limits health care rights to benefit the few (such as to senior citizens and to veterans) and leaves out the rest. So, is health care a right or a commodity? We believe and tell everyone “Health Care is a Right, Not a Privilege”, but, As Hoffman puts it, this “rights consciousness” is at odds with the fact that U.S. health care is a product, a commodity. Despite the U.S. being ranked first in medical care responsiveness in 2000, our country was ranked 37th in overall health system performance. Despite Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, 23 million people will still be uninsured and this number will only grow as states opt out.

The state of U.S. health reaches a dangerous point when millions of uninsured people live with health ailments and diseases. I believe Hoffman would agree with me that the U.S. healthcare system isn’t broken. It was made to be that way. People fall through the cracks often without anyone giving a second look at those who do not have the basic necessity of health care. I believe millions of Americans do not understand how unfair our healthcare system is. If we truly have the right to life as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then we should urge our leaders to recognize that health is first and foremost a human right. Maybe then can we slowly do away with bureaucracy and health care rationing and build a sustainable system that champions better health outcomes, higher life expectancies and first rate health care.

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