It’s important for us to understand the barriers people face in accessing healthcare, because it affects each of us on a personal, financial, and societal level. If you’re having a hard time finding care, know that you’re not alone. Most of us know a neighbor, friend, or family member grappling with this issue. Financially, we all pay increased healthcare costs to cover the uninsured or people who delay receiving care until they’re in a crisis. And then there’s the human cost when anyone suffers and feels lost. We found people who are trying to provide care, to fill in the healthcare gaps, but the need is too great and resources too limited. They often ask, how can we as a just and compassionate society continue limiting care to the people who most need it? It’s a tough question.In a developed nation, should medical care be a social responsibility?
On some level we already acknowledge that medical care is a social responsibility. We have government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. We require that we give life-saving treatment. But all other major industrialized nations, except for the United States, have universal coverage for their citizens. Some in the form of socialized medicine, some in private sector medicine, most in a combination of both. At some point, you need to limit or ration care. In the United States we do that by rationing who has access to care. We ration people instead of services. But we are heading towards reform. Right now several states are experimenting with ways to provide Universal Coverage and the discussion is also playing out on a national level.What ethical issues did you find as you explored this question in Utah?
As soon as you start to look at healthcare issues lots of questions arise. Do we believe that healthcare is a right or a shared social benefit? How much care should we provide? What is our social contract or social responsibility to each other? Do we make sure everyone has care, whether they’re in this country legally or not? What is the role of government, healthcare providers, and patients?Why don’t people have access to health care?
People are struggling to find healthcare. They are either too poor, or unable to find care due to geographic, cultural or language barriers. The biggest barrier is financial—people don’t have the money to get care. Either they don’t have the money to afford health insurance, or they can’t afford the $60 or more for an office or clinic visit. People are forced to choose between housing, food, and healthcare, and health often comes in last. Even if we could wave a magic wand and insure everyone tomorrow, there would still be barriers to care. Language, culture, geography and the lack of providers all keep people from getting care.What is the private non-profit sector doing to fill the gaps in our health care system?
There are non-profit organizations throughout the state that are dedicated to filling the gaps in our healthcare safety net. We have a free clinic that runs on an all-volunteer staff. We have groups that get donated care from specialists. And there are the Community Health Centers that exist in underserved neighborhoods. There are people working hard both on a State level and a private level to provide care. The problem is that the need is far greater then their resources.Do we as a society have the will to care for our sick?
There is reason to hope that we will find a way to address the problems of rising medical costs and the growing number of uninsured. Nearly everyone is recognizing the need for reform—local and national government, big and small business owners, doctors and providers, hospitals and insurers. Locally, the United Way of Salt Lake created a working group to find solutions and they’re coming out with a proposal this fall. But any reform will require each of us to look inside and ask where do I stand on this issue? What is my responsibility?