Healthcare – A Right or a Privilege or a Third Option?

I recently overheard another “right versus privilege” discussion relative to healthcare.

And again it reminded me of the piece I wrote for Hospital Impact back in 2010, Our ‘obligations’ under health reform haven’t changed that much.

So with the recent discussion in mind I thought I would update that piece slightly and re-share.

I hope it resonates.

“Is healthcare a right or a privilege?”

In line with President Kennedy’s famous inaugural address from 1961 …

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.

… there is a third option: “Healthcare is an obligation.”

We as individuals are obligated to take care of our own health. To eat right, to exercise right, to get enough sleep, to find healthy options to relieve stress, to stop smoking, to drink alcohol in moderation, to develop healthy relationships, to maintain an optimal weight, to ensure optimal conditioning prior to engaging in sports, to wear a bike helmet when riding a bike, to wear a safety belt when in a car, to follow scientific-based prevention guidelines best suited to you as an individual, to make one’s health a priority, to develop and manage a healthcare-related budget and so much more.

Living up to these obligations alone will significantly improve the health of individuals and communities and lower the cost of healthcare more than any top-down approach.

All of us together honoring these commitments would literally change the world.

Beyond these personal obligations, we are also obligated to continue to identify and eliminate barriers to good health for those who cannot, to identify the root-cause of these barriers, to stand up in community to break these barriers down, and to support one another in doing so.

Some of these roadblocks include:

* Access-related barriers such as cultural, language, education, health literacy, limited number of high-quality physicians in rural areas and more.

* Environmental barriers such as pollution, harmful food chemicals and food production techniques, and more.

* Political barriers such as the politics of stakeholders in the healthcare system (insurers, politicians, providers) who aren’t focused on the greater good of the community.

* Health equity barriers that are contributing to health disparities throughout the health and healthcare system.

* Socioeconomic barriers such as balancing the inability for some to afford high-quality, value-based health care with the human need to give, to earn, to be needed, and to be honored.

* Reimbursement barriers such as primary care physicians having to generate 25 to 30 or more relative value units per day and physician practices having to make up financial shortfalls by overtreating and ordering ever more ancillary services and driving up the cost of care (especially as reimbursement rates are reduced).

* And other additional barriers that exist in specific markets that only together and collaboratively can we can mitigate.

We have voices, we have our energy and we have our obligation to stand up, to get involved and to make a significant difference.

The passage and implementation of health reform doesn’t make our obligations go away.

What can we together do for our country to significantly improve the health of individuals, families and communities?


Let’s begin today by rising together and being of service to others and honoring our obligations.



  1. Our obligation to health should be to elect government leaders who believe that health care should not be run for profit. That drugs should not be price pointed for the optimum profit for corporations that make billions but would let people die. No matter our obligation to good health everyone will get sick, do you want to be taken care of by corporations who treat you like a loaf of bread, common sense should rule, and the government needs to act without bribes to ensure the people they serve, all the people have access to decent health care, without profit.

    • Thank you, Maureen.

      I see the roadblocks you highlight falling under…

      “* Political barriers such as the politics of stakeholders in the healthcare system (insurers, politicians, providers) who aren’t focused on the greater good of the community.”

      … and of which we are obligated to address together as we also fulfill are other obligations and continue to honor or serve ourselves and others.

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