It’s a Right……………..not a privilege
Yesterday, between patients, I watched the president’s health summit. When Senator Clyburn state that health care is a right, I was reminded of a presentation I was asked by the St Louis medical society about a small health center that a few of my classmates and I had organized in the Pruitt-Igoe projects. Explaining why we had decided to divert our attention from the library and anatomy lab, I said, “ Health care is a right - not a privilege.
As an pre-med student, studying American history, I fantasized that if our Constitution had been written in mid twentieth century the unalienable Rights “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, promised to ‘all men’ would have meant equal access to health care. I had no idea that claiming that health care, as a right of all citizens would be so controversial.
I can still feel the stirrings and hear the whispers of shock. My intent was not to be provocative. It was what I believed. It was confirmed in the first weeks of my freshman year as I walked to class past rows of long benches of people waiting in the clinic for free care and saw the same people still waiting as I returned from class.
That was 1966. Now more than 40 years later, our country remains divided by those who believe that health is a right and those who believe it should be purchased in the ‘market place’. This was what I took away from the president’s forum.
It was not Republican versus Democrat. It was those who believed that everyone should have access to basic health care and those who believed that health care is a commodity traded in the market place and available to those who can afford to pay. For all citizens to have access, the federal government must be involved as it is for other programs that are made available to everyone. On the other hand, if health care is traded in the market, it should remain in the private sector.
That is the divide. After listening to yesterday’s discussion, this is a bridge too far. One of the unspoken items of the forum was that health care has been in the market place. The market has produced a health system that everyone agrees requires reform. So why would anyone trust the market forces to realign itself to now allow those who have until now been denied or unable to afford access ‘into’ the system? This is was what was the unspoken message from the Blair House.
The problem is that in the past four decades, the ‘market’ has proven itself unable to meet this challenge. Now it is the time to for a new tact an allow government regulation, incentive, and guidelines a chance to create the mechanisms to assure that all Americans can pursue ‘twenty first century happiness’ and benefit from the advances in modern medicine that until now has been only available to those who have been fortunate to be have been blessed by the market.
Ralph B Freidin, MD