Is Health Care Like a Food Processor (The Moment of Reckoning is Upon Us)

Co-authored by Eric Haas and Joe Brewer, consulting partners at Cognitive Policy Works.  They offer consulting and coaching services based on insights from the cognitive sciences to health care advocates and progressive organizations.

Health care and food processors are different.

When it comes to health care, it is both right and smart for me – and everyone I come into contact with – to have health care.  On the other hand, I couldn’t care less about my parents’ food processor.

I should be embarrassed to say the same thing about my parents’ health care.  It would be both wrong and dumb to say so.  Why?

When (not “if”) my parents get sick and injured, my life and my family’s life and the life of my brothers and sisters will change dramatically, especially if they do not have good health care.  If they lack secure health care, it is highly likely if not certain that:

  • My parents will suffer terribly because good care will be beyond their financial means;
  • My family and the families of my brothers and sisters will likely go bankrupt trying to help them.

This is immoral and it’s bad economics.

How many people have parents who do not have good health care coverage? Millions of Americans (including one of the authors) are in this situation right now.  Are you one of them?  If so, you understand how frightening it can be to think about them getting older and eventually getting sick.  If not, you can easily imagine what this situation is like.

But this is how our current market-based, for-profit health insurance system has been working for decade upon decade. Health care is not seen as a basic human need; it is a food processor, an extra—good to have if you can get it, but not essential. As a result, hard working people and their families are suffering, dying, and going bankrupt every day, while insurance companies make billions in profits.

This is wrong. Which is why no other industrialized country acts this way.

So, let’s start with some basic ideas:

Good health is a human need.

While many think of health care as a privilege to be “earned”, others with more compassion consider it to be a basic human right.  But even this doesn’t go far enough.  Good health is a basic need.  Abraham Maslow, back in 1943, presented the hierarchy of needs for human beings.  The foundation for living in this world begins with the most basic things we literally can’t live without – including food, water, air, and shelter.  Having these needs met leads to the next level – what Maslow called “safety needs” – which include all forms of physical security.  Health is one of these.  If these needs are not met, all higher forms of living become secondary – including financial security, friendship, pursuit of happiness, and personal fulfillment.

Without health security, a fulfilling life is impossible.

Everyone should have the care they need to be healthy when they are sick or injured.

The denial of basic needs is wrong, plain and simple.  One of the guiding moral principles of the United States is the guarantee of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  This idea is so deeply engrained in the American character that we feel it in our bones.  And yet, at the most basic level of health security, we have failed our American family.  This is a moral failure.  And it must be righted to remove the blemish from our souls.  How can we live with ourselves when we let private greed dictate the lives of our loved ones, especially when it leads to senseless suffering and death for so many?

We all benefit when it happens, whether the people needing care are our parents, our kids, our co-workers, people sitting next to us at church, the restaurant employees who serve our food, or ourselves.

Universal health care is more than the right thing to do.  It is also the smart thing to do.  An economy can’t run when sickness is widespread.  Small businesses can’t grow and thrive when their employees are at risk of bankruptcy from an unexpected illness.  Large companies can’t compete in the global marketplace while carrying the risk of private health for their workers.  The only way to secure economic health is to guarantee that everyone has the capacity for physical health.

Can anyone really support the idea that Americans don’t deserve health care when they are sick or injured?

So, how do we get it?  Single payer. Or, at a minimum, a rigorous public option.

We know that the current system doesn’t work for over 100 million Americans who are underinsured or don’t have insurance at all.  These are people who need it like pregnant couples, sick people (from cancer victims to people with toe fungus), and small business owners. Insurance companies have had over three decades to work this out and they haven’t been able to do it.

But they’ve made some good money in their failure.

So, let’s go back to the basic issue here.  Everyone gets care when they need it.  Period.  Single payer or a robust public option are the only real solutions because health care is decidedly NOT like a food processor.  Those who act otherwise need a lesson in compassion.

Now is the moment of truth.  It is un-American to sit idly by and allow our neighbors to suffer needlessly.  It is un-American to allow our neighbors to lose their homes to pay for medical expenses.  It is un-American to condemn millions of people to agonize about money in the face of life-threatening illness.

We must rise to our moral aspirations and guarantee a basic need for ALL AMERICANS.  Or, we can judge our brothers and sisters unworthy of basic health and condemn the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness to the shadows of history.

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Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.