Health care is a right, not a privilege, and should not be denied to anyone based on race or income.
This sounds like a platform statement from a presidential candidate, but it was the gist of a message delivered by Pope Francis on May 7. During a meeting with members, volunteers and supporters of a Catholic medical mission group, Doctors with Africa, the pope delivered a strong message about health care equity, especially in the Catholic health care arena.
“Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege,” said Pope Francis.
According to Catholic News Service, Pope Francis derided the lack of health care access around the world, particularly in Africa. Health care, he said, is denied to too many people. “It is not a right for all, but rather still a privilege for a few, for those who can afford it.”
While U.S. citizens do not face the same challenges that people in many other countries face, access to health care is still not an equal right.
According to a Gallup survey released in April, 11 percent of U.S. adults lack health care insurance, down from 11.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. While this is positive news (and a trend that continues to improve since the Affordable Care Act took effect in early 2014, requiring Americans to carry health insurance), the poll also revealed that blacks and Hispanics still lag behind in health insurance. The uninsured rate for blacks is 11.4 percent and 28.3 for Hispanics.
A Gallup poll from 2015 showed that 31 percent of Americans report putting off any sort of medical treatment in the past year due to cost.
Another scathing report on U.S. health care, which appeared on Forbes.com, noted that the United States lags behind all other industrialized nations in many health care measures. In addition, a disparity in health care access exists for the poor and minorities.
The U.S. ranks last in life expectancy for men and second to last for women among the 17 wealthiest nations. Infant mortality in the U.S. ranks last among the most advanced nations in the world, according to Dr. Robert Pearl, who writes on health care issues for Forbes.
“African-Americans, Latinos and the economically disadvantaged experience poorer health care access and lower quality of care than white Americans,” stated Dr. Pearl. “And in most measures, that gap is growing.”
He cited a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which showed race and ethnicity as being keys to receiving health care interventions and treatment.
“The foundation estimates Latinos and African-Americans experience 30 to 40 percent poorer health outcomes than white Americans,” stated Dr. Pearl. For example, Latinos are twice as likely — and blacks three times as likely — to be hospitalized for diabetes. Diabetics living in low-income neighborhoods are about 10 times more likely to have an amputation as those living in affluent areas, a California study showed.
“This disparity leads not only to shortened lives and increased illness, but also costs the nation more than $60 billion in lost productivity each year,” according to Dr. Pearl.
We need to eliminate the disparities that plague our health care system, one that treats some citizens with better care than others. Perhaps our presidential candidates should adopt some of Pope Francis’ health care philosophies in their campaign strategies. They need to view our health care system not as a “super-clinic for VIPs,” as Pope Francis said, but “a field hospital” for all, especially the poor.