Monday, November 2, 2009

More on healthcare...

From my personal archives: an Op-Ed that never got published in our crappy paper. They'd rather publish insane amounts of coverage on the Colts and other asinine issues.

Here in the US the major arguments against drastic healthcare reform are that people refuse to wait for healthcare services and lose the complete freedom to choose a healthcare professional of their liking. This is laughable to someone who has witnessed the extreme poverty present in the majority of the rest of the world.

When we discuss our rationale against universal healthcare in the U.S, we often leave a major point unspoken. By refusing to compromise on the care we currently receive, we, who have health insurance, are saying that our own access to healthcare is more important than our neighbors’.

I have just returned from my fourth medical mission to Nigeria and I am amazed at the dialogue surrounding the topic of healthcare reform in the United States. In Nigeria the disparity between the wealthy elite and the majority of the population that is poor is most pronounced in the realm of healthcare.

There is no Nigerian national health insurance and this leads to morbidity and mortality among the poor that could easily be prevented if only affordable care were available. The poor Nigerians assume that the US, the richest country in the world, does not have to worry about such primitive medical disparities. There are some legitimate economic excuses for the many injustices that the average African faces, but how long can we American pretend that our healthcare system is a model of justice?

In the Nigerian clinic where we work people will wait an entire year for our arrival, and then wait in line in the sweltering sun and monsoon rains for five days just to be seen by our team of American doctors. If they are not able to see us during that five-day window they have to wait another year for their only chance at professional healthcare. In the U.S., we feel that our rights have been violated if we are asked to make an appointment that is more than a week out.

I have spent much time in countries where the value of a person’s life is determined by the amount of money he or she has. This is not a value I wish to affirm in my own country. When we accept that some lives are worth more than others and that certain people deserve healthcare more than others I am ashamed to see that we Americans have made the same choice as the privileged elite of Nigeria: if you can afford healthcare, life is good; if you cannot, do not bother me with your problems.

In the US we are quick to celebrate and laud the sacrifices of our men and women in the military. We talk about the selfless giving of their comforts and even their lives so that we as a country may live better lives. And yet, when asked to sacrifice some of our “rights” so that our fellow Americans can have access to healthcare, we are quick to say no. Apparently sacrifice is only required by Americans fighting terrorists.

Am I willing to sacrifice my on-demand healthcare and curtail my choice of providers? If it means that everyone in this country can have access to care without the worry of bankruptcy, ruined credit, loss of home or other negative consequences that many uninsured Americans face I know I am willing to make that sacrifice.

I consider it my patriotic duty to my fellow Americans. I want to believe that my country has a stronger sense of patriotism and justice than the impoverished countries I have visited. We are good at lecturing other countries about these principles, but it is time to live up to the standard of justice we claim to represent.

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