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PNHP RESOURCES

Healthcare is a right, not a commodity

By The Editorial Board
The Barnstable Patriot (Hyannis, Mass.), August 25, 2017

At a recent forum in Brewster, several highly qualified people discussed the future of health care in the United States, specifically the idea of a single-payer system. One speaker, Dr. Alan Meyers of Boston University, got to the heart of the matter by asking this question: Is healthcare a basic human right, or a commodity to be traded on the open market?

The first part of the question was familiar – many people have raised it in the context of arguing that it is. But it isn’t often that we are asked to consider the alternative: If health care is not a basic human right, then what is it?

There are those who believe that yes, it is a commodity, and that as a capitalistic society we should embrace the idea of health care as something to be bought the same way we might buy a car, choosing the options that work for us. When it comes to purchasing a vehicle, everyone has different needs. Some people can use a pickup truck, while others have no need for one and would prefer to save on gas by buying a compact car. There are all sorts of options that a buyer may or may not select, from sunroofs and stereos to heated seats. But with health care, Meyers argued, “Don’t we all need the same thing?”

Good point. What we all need is insurance against the things we hope will never happen. It’s not really fair to ask a person to choose between coverage for mental health or long-term care or physical therapy. Who knows what we will need? It’s not something any of us care to contemplate. We just hope the coverage we need will be there for us.

Meyers, professor emeritus of pediatrics at BU and a founding member of Physicians for a National Health Program, spoke after Celia Wcislo, a member of the Massachusetts Connector Board, and before William Hsiao, professor of economics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a global expert in universal health insurance. All three made a strong case for a single-payer system that would increase access and save money.

The reality is that the United States spends more per capita than other developed countries on health care – and yet we lag behind in terms of benchmarks like infant mortality. We can do better. Health care is too important to be treated as a product.

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