Most everyone has spoken out on reforming our nation's health care system. President Obama has now even set a meeting with Republicans by month's end in an attempt to cobble together bi-partisan support for reform. But what ideas can be so new and different to come out of any meeting that has not already been considered and trampled upon into the ground?
For one, there has yet to be a declared consensus about how this area of our existence should be considered. When Obama meets with his colleagues, this should be the first topic on the agenda.
Is health care simply a product to be bought and sold; is it a right, like so many other industrialized countries view it; is it a privilege attainable for only those who can afford it; or is it a responsibility of the government to ensure, like providing heat or electrical power for one's home? Obama was asked what health care was when he debated McCain in Nashville back in the Fall 2008. He said it should be a right, and not a privilege or responsibility. Teddy Kennedy said it was a right at the Democratic convention; so have many others, including this writer.
I don't say that health care is a right in a constitutional sense, for it is not specifically identified in the Constitution. We do know that the Bill of Rights declares we are, "endowed with unalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," but issues of accessibility and affordability to health care were not forefront on the minds of our Founding Fathers -- health care was generally available to all citizens back then, and was not an integral part of the 1700s as it is in today's society -- so it is doubtful that the Bill of Rights intended to include health care with its words.
We also know that the Supreme Court has interpreted the 8th Amendment's "cruel and unusual punishment" clause to require prisoners be guaranteed the right to health care. Even the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 declares, "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one's family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care."
Health care affects every single American, perhaps like no other area of human existence. Everyone knows what it is to be healthy and to be sick or infirm. Stated differently, but for being healthy, we cannot be productive to ourselves, our families, our employers, our communities, indeed in the end, to the nation's economy. It would be a major step, therefore, for the President to start any meeting with Congressional leaders later this month to view the ability of being free from sickness or disease, i.e., being healthy, as a right. The trick is, how to achieve this goal.
Next on any agenda should be issues on which there is broad agreement and areas on which there remains a wide divide. I, together with my colleague, Andrew Kurz, a former CFO of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Wisconsin, detail these points in less than 2,500 words which it has taken the Congress nearly 2,000 pages to write. Our "white paper" can now be found here.
In the end, it is not what it takes to get re-elected that matters to the electorate, only how to fix a broken-down system where disaster lurks around the next corner.