The Only Likely Path to Health Care for Everyone

Health care is a fundamental human right. And, in so far as health insurance is needed to access that fundamental right, health insurance is a derived right. See my post: Fundamental Human Rights versus Derived Human Rights.

Even in wealthy developed nations, many persons lack health care. They do not have health insurance, or a regular doctor. They cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket, nor can they afford insurance premiums.

But if there were enough money available, would everyone in the nation or in the world be able to have health care? Perhaps not. The resources available in the national and worldwide health care systems are limited. And society has other fundamental needs: food, clean water, shelter, transportation, education, clothing, work, and so on. We can only devote a certain portion of our societal resources to health care. So I’m not certain if there would be enough resources to give everyone in the world, or everyone in the U.S., the same level of health care received by, say, a middle or upper-middle class American with a good job and good health insurance.

The reason is that the average middle class American uses more health care resources than he or she should use. Our health care system emphasizes diagnosing and treating diseases. If we emphasized prevention to a much greater extent, we could reduce the number of grave illnesses, especially from cancer and heart disease, by millions — freeing up a vast amount of medical resources for use by persons who currently are underserved by the U.S. health care system.

And this thinking applies even more so to the planet as a whole. The residents of the developing nations have little access to health care. If the developed nations used less of the world’s health care resources, more would be available for the developing nations. The world is increasingly one global economy, one tightly interwoven tapestry of commercial relationships. But the health care system is primarily commercial also. So we are headed toward one global health care economy. And that implies that if the U.S. and other wealthy nations used less health care resources, more would be available for the developing world.

Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute:

* In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease.
* The number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis [in the U.S.] reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 and is expected to rise to almost 19 million by 2024.
* Approximately 39.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data).

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., not far behind Heart Disease. But most cancer cases are preventable, in five main ways:

1. eat healthy
2. do not smoke
3. do not drink alcohol, or drink only a little red wine
4. exercise
5. maintain a healthy body weight

One study found that 1.14 million deaths in the U.S. were preventable: The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States (2005 data). Those deaths represent 46.6 percent of the total deaths that year.

The idea behind the study was that many causes of death are preventable. But if you prevent the cause of death, you largely prevent the disease as well. And when you prevent disease, especially deadly disease, you reduce the amount of health care resources used for the population as a whole. There are many medical studies (discussed in my book, Healthy Eating versus Mortality) which show that healthy eating can reduce the overall risk of cancer mortality (any/all types combined) as well as the overall risk of heart disease mortality by more than 50% each. And the risk of some particular types of cancer can be reduced more than 50% by healthy eating alone.

In modern society, unhealthy living causes certain diseases, including obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. The resources used to treat these preventable diseases could be used to treat persons who currently lack sufficient access to health care.

People have a moral obligation to eat healthy, exercise, avoid (or quit) smoking, maintain a healthy body weight, and refrain from excessive alcohol consumption. If everyone made the right choices in those areas of concern, the nation and the world would be much healthier. Cancer and heart disease cases would fall dramatically. And the overall economic burden of health care, whether it is paid for by government, corporations, or individuals, would also fall.

I believe that the only way the world population can achieve good health care for everyone is by a strong emphasis on prevention of cancer, heart disease, and other major causes of morbidity and mortality. But we can’t legislate prevention. People need to voluntarily change their behavior. Educating people on the best choices for a healthy life is a necessary first step. Then also the culture must change. The Western pattern diet, that is to say, the typical unhealthy American diet, increases the risk of every major disease and increases risk of death as well.

Making healthy choices is, to some extent, a moral issue. Unhealthy choices put an undue burden on the health care system, making those resources less available to other persons in need.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to The Only Likely Path to Health Care for Everyone

  1. therese53 says:

    We all have a responsibility to look after ourselves , so that we maintain good health and age as well as one can. We all have the right to have access to medical care. I have been a Registered Nurse for over 30 years, and, while I want to see more emphasis on preventative health care and education , unforeseen health problems can occur, such as a stroke or cancer, risk factors can be reduced, but there is no guarantee that these disease processes will not occur.

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