Is healthcare a right or a privilege?
Depending on how you view this determines how you feel about the recent healthcare reform which was signed by President Obama.
As a doctor, I firmly believe that having healthcare is a right.
As a nation, we agree that individuals should be accountable for their actions. People often argue that those who are reckless with their bodies by ingesting chemicals via cigarettes or drug use and who subsequently develop cancers shouldn't be subsidized by others insurance premiums as the latter group works hard at staying healthy by exercising, maintaining an acceptable weight, and eating generous portions of fruits and vegetables. Some how it isn't fair.
Unfortunately life and good health aren't quite that easy or predictable.
Children who haven't had time to abuse their bodies do develop cancers, type 1 diabetes requiring insulin, or are born with genetic problems, like cystic fibrosis, that require expensive medical therapies that potentially are lifelong. Once diagnosed, these children are now plagued with the "pre-existing" label and unable to get health insurance. Over the past many years, the leading cause of personal bankruptcy for individuals and families is due to medical expenses. As a parent with an ill child could you simply walk away?
Non-smokers do develop lung cancer (note Dana Reeves, Christopher Reeves' wife). Individuals without a family history do get afflicted with other aliments. Healthy people do get heart attacks.
In other words, life happens. Good health can require a little luck as well. While individually one can decrease risk by not smoking, eating healthy foods, losing weight, and exercising, it isn't a sure thing. Bad things can happen to good people.
About 1 in 10 Americans or thirty-two million citizens, roughly the entire population of Canada, don't have health insurance . As a country, is it acceptable for us to walk away from them?
Even today, Americans believe in the American dream - work hard and you can be successful. The wild card is that having good health can be a finicky thing. Do everything right and you could or a family member could be stricken with a serious illness. Prior to healthcare reform, this situation not only could bankrupt you but your family.
Let's be clear. The legislation isn't perfect. It isn't so much true healthcare reform, but health insurance reform. The program phases in over a number of years. It doesn't address healthcare delivery or costs, which will likely occur in 2011. Nevertheless, it is an important start.
Despite the heated rhetoric from both parties, Americans are still a society that welcomes diversity, provides compassion and help to fellow human beings, believes in justice, fairness, and the opportunity to succeed with dogged hard work. This healthcare reform legislation, though far from ideal, is a good first step to ensure the American dream can still exist for current and generations to come.