The World Health Organization broadly defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” It is not simply marked by the absence of suffering from injuries or illness but is a state of optimal human functioning and flourishing. As such, health is an indispensable foundation for truly wholesome and fully functional personal, family and social life. It holds the key to the progress of individuals, families, nations, societies and humanity at large.
A society advances when its members enjoy good health and overall well-being. By contrast, a society whose members lack health—as broadly defined—is prone to collapse and destined to fail. Where there is health, there is life; there is work; there is housing; there is education; there are working institutions. There is social progress. The absence of health, on the other hand, causes suffering, death and, ultimately, social ruin.
Optimal health care, then, is of the utmost importance for the strength of our social fabric. Accordingly, creating the most efficient and effective health care system should be a top priority for every government.
Obviously, there are great discrepancies in this regard around the world. In some dire cases, the fundamental right of human beings to have access to good health care has become the privilege of a favored few. That is what happens when the pursuit of profit outweighs respect for fundamental human rights; that is when access to health—as well as education and other social benefits—depends way too much on an individual’s economic means. In such cases, adequate health care becomes out of reach for the great majority of poor citizens.
In a world and culture where having trumps being, health care—like other social benefits—is treated like a commercial commodity that is managed and distributed by both government and the business realm according to economic criteria. Access to medical therapies and medicine, to hospitals and all their specialized services—as well as access to medical schools—is determined according to the free-market dynamics of supply and demand; a vital societal good has become prey to a game of buying and selling.
This essentially closed system allows only a small elite to flourish, while the majority of people in so many places around the world suffer the denial of their right to adequate health care and basic social protections. Their quality of life suffers severely as a result of being shut out from so many benefits of society and culture, including adequate employment, proper housing, quality education and opportunities for social advancement.
The bottom line, regrettably, is that one has to have money in order to enjoy quality health care.
Today, no one would deny that the medical and pharmaceutical industries are managed like enormous trading centers in ways that serve the interests of national and multinational economic monopolies. That is how the cost of health care is determined, along with the means to gain access to it. The bottom line, regrettably, is that one has to have money in order to enjoy quality health care.
A prevailing social system built on an economic and social structure that impoverishes the vast majority of people is incompatible with the importance of creating and sustaining healthy and flourishing societies of individuals whose leaders support the common good—the progress and welfare of all citizens. It is, therefore, imperative that both government and the business sector—on both the national and international level—take responsibility for ensuring the best possible care for all, especially the poor and the marginalized.
In theory, medical science should serve human beings, not the other way around. Science, learning, the pursuit of knowledge must have as their highest goal the well-being of all men, women and children. Instead, it appears that, more and more, people serve the world of science and technology as objects of study and experimentation—with the highest goal being innovation in treatment whose enormous cost put it out of reach for most people. That is a grave wrong. Medical science, rather than being in effect driven by a profit motive, must answer its highest calling: the promotion of the health and well-being of all humankind.
The United States spends billions of dollars annually on health care programs, be they public or private. However, this enormous outlay has not resulted in universal coverage; quite the opposite is true, with coverage being clearly limited and precarious at that. What is lacking, profoundly lacking, is a comprehensive vision of human health, as hinted at by WHO’s definition: an understanding that an assessment of an individual’s state of health must also take into account his or her spiritual and emotional well-being.
In addition, our country’s health care industry—again, both private and public—does a poor job at preventing illness. There is no consistent and well-thought-out strategy for providing people with effective preventive care. A substantive preventive strategy would work to strengthen the health and overall well-being of a person well before the potential onset of disease; such a strategy would take into account various dimensions that go into a person’s well-being, including psychological factors that may be linked to poverty, for example. Such a strategy would work on promoting the overall human flourishing of all members of society.
Just imagine the savings that such an upfront regime of intervention and prevention would produce. Imagine the many millions of dollars saved that would otherwise go into very costly treatment of serious disease, a grave condition that smart spending on prevention would keep from ever developing. Indeed, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In such a system, rich and poor can thrive alike thanks to good health—and such a system makes both economic and human sense.