Is Healthcare a Right or a Privilege?

I am only just now thinking about that question.  Why?

For most of my career in Human Resources, I listened to employees complain. The source of complaints ran the gamut, but every fall, it zeroed in on the rise in healthcare premiums.  In HR, we bent over backwardS to explain that the company covered a lot of the cost, that it wasn’t just our company that was experiencing the increase, and tried to educate them about deductibles, co-pays, and premiums and the trade-offs in plan choices.

Never did I realize how many people there were in the country who didn’t work for a company, and therefore didn’t have healthcare coverage.  At all.

My upbringing taught me that “healthcare for all was socialist.” Why should I pay for someone who isn’t working to receive the same benefit as those who are working? So as Obamacare unfolded, I didn’t pay much attention.

My friends all worked and had access to healthcare in one form or another.  My circle of friends was a mirror image of my own life – work for a company and bitch about the rising cost of benefits.

Now it is 2020 – the year that the world turned upside down.  I no longer work “for” a company, am blessed that my husband’s 21-year military service made it possible for us to not worry about healthcare.

But my circle of friends has grown.  Take Jessie, a talented massage therapist with two kids, no healthcare coverage, and now, her employer – a Spa – closed. Or take my friend Sam, an incredible musician with a large concert audience following him all over the state, but now no venues to play for 6 months and probably much longer.  Part-time drywalling doesn’t help pay the bills for continuing treatment for a serious health condition and purchasing healthcare with seriously limited income is a challenge.

CNN carried a recent story about Americans who cannot pay the prices of insulin in the United States, so they routinely travel to Mexico or Canada, where the medicine is significantly less expensive.  Yet, now the borders are closed.  The article talks about how insulin-dependent diabetics are forced to ration the insulin they have while wondering when they can get their next batch.

What is the answer?

I have no idea.  Right now, I’m in the mode of learning what I can about this big world that exists outside traditional corporate America.  Folks who have an entrepreneurial spirit and talent but must take a 9-5 job just to get healthcare.  Shouldn’t there be a better way?

I have been doing a lot of soul searching around some of the paradigms of my upbringing lately.  This is the most recent. I have no answer – only more questions.

2020 has shaken us up in so many ways.  Perhaps that is a very good thing.

I came across a 2017 article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande that is one of the most factual, most pragmatic articles I have read.  I strongly encourage you to read it.  It is very long but very readable, balanced, and factual.

The author searches for answers to the question, “Is healthcare a right?”  Talking with conservatives, he hears that they don’t want to deny anyone healthcare; they just don’t want to pay for healthcare when someone can work and doesn’t. (That is a huge simplification in my words – read the article.)

He talks with individuals who, because of Obamacare, have been able to get healthcare they otherwise could not have had. He explains that the way the US healthcare is structured, everyone has a different “deal.”

He says, “Understanding this seems key to breaking the current political impasse. The deal we each get on health care has a profound impact on our lives—on our savings, on our well-being, on our life expectancy. In the American health-care system, however, different people get astonishingly different deals. That disparity is having a corrosive effect on how we view our country, our government, and one another.”

Gawande has an ah-ha moment when talking with a conservative woman about Medicare.  Why she is okay with it?  We pay for Medicare.

“We all pay in for that,” she pointed out, “and we all benefit.” That made all the difference in the world. From the moment we earn an income, we all contribute to Medicare, and, in return, when we reach sixty-five we can all count on it, regardless of our circumstances. There is genuine reciprocity. You don’t know whether you’ll need more health care than you pay for or less. Her husband thus far has needed much less than he’s paid for. Others need more. But we all get the same deal, and, she felt, that’s what makes it O.K.

As I ponder all of this, it seems that the polarity we are living in is prohibiting us from moving.  We trash “the other side’s” agenda simply because it is theirs, not ours.

I always try to wrap up an article with a call to action, so here it is.  Read this article.  And then spend a few minutes thinking through your own paradigms about healthcare.  That’s it….just think.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Excellent piece, Carol. I so appreciate you bringing such a balanced approach to this conversation. I’m with you – the only way out of this mess is in sincerely wanting to understand everyone’s perspectives and experiences and educating ourselves about what’s real. I look forward to reading the piece you highlighted.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jeff. The author of the NewYorker article takes a similar approach to what you’re saying and it makes sense to me. It isn’t an “all or nothing” but finding a way to level the playing field. He talks about how different people get different deals, which is inherently unfair. That makes it seem like the opportunity should be to aim for fairness, rather than free. That was a new concept for me.

  3. Carol — Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the Atlantic article. I’m going to read it.

    I don’t know the answer either, but I guess I’ve always felt that we pay for everyone’s health care whether we want to or not. Those who don’t have health care insurance still go to emergency rooms and clinics. My understanding is that their costs are passed along to us in the form of higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Maybe the Atlantic article will confirm or deny that assumption, or maybe one of your other readers can enlighten me.

    The other thought that crossed my mind while reading your article is that we may want to broaden the right v privilege question. ACA didn’t just extend health care to millions without asking them to contribute. An underlying assumption of ACA was that people should bear some responsibility for their health care. We can all help each other, but it has to start with us helping ourselves. ACA wasn’t perfect in part because lawmakers didn’t agree on a North Star for health care, meaning what is it that we want for everyone? What’s our goal here? As long as health care is a partisan issue, we won’t get far.

    It’s also too easy to slap the “socialism” label on the question in an effort to crush discussion. We fund a multi-function military and multi-layer intelligence system that are designed to protect us all. We build and maintain an interstate highway system that supports travel and commerce for all of us. We send weather and communication satellites into space to support all of us. I’m not hearing anyone saying we shouldn’t collectively support those efforts.

    • Kimberly — Thank you! I cannot read everything on BC360′ – probably miss some very good writing – but I try to give authors’ their due when responding as everyone puts a lot of time in creating for this space. There are a handful of writers who I try to stay current with as time allows.