Health care for citizens of the United States is pivotal to both the physical wellbeing and economic security of the nation. We asked Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Helen Hadley ’71, president of VantagePoint HealthCare Advisors, whether access to affordable health care is a public right or a personal responsibility.
Kennedy: All citizens have the right to affordable, high quality health care. It’s a moral issue, a public health issue, a homeland security issue and an economic and international competitiveness issue. It is unfathomable that 45.7 million people in the wealthiest nation on Earth are forced to live without health insurance. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not provide some form of universal health care, and our health outcomes are the indicators that our way of doing things isn’t working. Two of the leading indicators of overall health — infant mortality and life expectancy — are worse in the U.S., not only in comparison to our main competitors, but also to countries with far less developed economies.
Whether you have access to life-saving prescriptions or medical treatments shouldn’t be dependant on how much money you have. A parent should never have to choose between money for housing and food or medical treatment for a child. It’s unjustifiable for even one family to be faced with such a draconian choice in a country that is built, and has flourished, on promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The role of government, as our founding fathers envisioned it, was to protect and promote these unalienable rights for all citizens. The majority of Americans has long been supportive of guaranteeing health care to all citizens, and I’m enthusiastic about the point in history where we now stand, with an administration dedicated to enacting meaningful health care reform.
Hadley: For too many Americans, health care is not affordable and until it is, the question of access being a public right or personal responsibility is just an interesting philosophical debate. To make health care affordable, experts agree it will take a massive effort — combining public and private initiatives with a commitment by every American to accept personal responsibility.
Until individuals — not businesses — are considered the “customer,” individuals won’t have the leverage or financial power to force changes to the system. Personal responsibility will play a role in making health care affordable, but can only have a limited impact on the big picture.
It is our personal responsibility to use health care resources wisely and to maintain healthy lifestyles to avoid abusing these resources. However, if we want people to accept personal responsibility, we must have a system in which the individual has a financial interest in his health, has control over how his money is spent, and has information to make intelligent decisions.
Beyond the personal actions each of us can take, making health care affordable will take a major overhaul of the current system, requiring the government, insurance companies, hospitals, physicians, employer groups, pharmaceutical companies and others to work together. or example, consider three critical areas that could have substantial financial impacts, but need major reform: changing the basic payment structure from quantity of care to quality of care; increasing payments to primarycare physicians; and malpractice reform.
When the system is reformed and affordable health care is available, we will surely find that it took both public action and personal responsibility to make it happen.