Is access to health care a right for all of our citizens? There are many strong arguments for that position. Our Declaration of Independence states that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Good health is fundamental to those rights.
I argue that the health of each of us, of our communities and our society is in fact the responsibility of us all. Both the U.S. and the Idaho constitutions state that the promotion of the common welfare is one of our founding principles. My health, our health, is an individual and societal responsibility. For a society to thrive, its members need to thrive. For its members to thrive, we must all be healthy. No one can be left behind.
None of us, despite our best efforts, can be healthy on our own. As a society, we have long recognized a responsibility for the health of our members. The public health efforts to assure clean drinking water, sanitary sewage systems, immunizations, and clean air and water have been critical to improve our health and living standards. We fund Medicare to ensure our seniors have access to health care as they age. We fund children’s health insurance to assure the next generations of our society have a healthy start, knowing that poor health retards educational progress. Many employers fund health insurance to ensure a healthy, productive workforce. We fund Medicaid to provide health care for our members with a range of disabilities. We do this because we know it is the right thing to do.
We also know this: As each of us lives and dies, none of us, individually, can afford the cost of health care for ourselves or our families. It is simply too expensive, beyond the reach of all but the extremely wealthy. It is more than sharing risk; it is sharing our collective reality. The simple question is not whether the reality of health care costs will hit; it is only a question of when.
Through income or belonging to a covered group, most of us have health coverage that enables access with the opportunity for good health. But not everyone. Almost 80,000 fellow Idahoans live without coverage; more than 80 percent work. They live in fear that an unaffordable health crisis will occur; of not filling and/or taking necessary medicine; of delaying necessary care because of cost; of accessing more expensive emergency room and hospital care when the illness gets too severe.
The patchwork of health care is difficult when one has decent health coverage; it is formidable without coverage. Requirements for payment prior to care mean no care for many. Some argue that the health care system and costs must be addressed prior to coverage. Making the 80,000 wait while we fix the system for everyone else is not the mark of a just and humane society.
Last year, 54,000 Idahoans applied for help through Your Health Idaho to obtain health insurance. Sadly, they were found to be too poor to be helped and left uninsured. Idaho can do better. We can help our neighbors; it is the Idaho way. We can design a path forward that is built upon our values. After all, my health and your health is our health. And our health is our responsibility. The time is now to accept our responsibility and craft a plan that works for all of Idaho.
Stephen Weeg was a member of the Governor’s Medicaid Redesign Work Group. He is the board chair for Your Health Idaho and a board member of the Portneuf HealthTrust.