Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reflection on Health Disparties by Jessica Adepoju

The purpose of the Emerging Minds Project (EMP) is to create an intellectually open and dynamic environment for students to learn about and discuss social justice issues of today. Each month, a group of students come together at 5710 to dialogue with an experienced facilitator who works in the field.

This blog is an outlet for each of our members' voices. While this is a collection of their personal thoughts, we hope to display a glimpse of the multifaceted ways that each topic impacts the individual members of the EMP cohort.

*The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are that of each individual author and do not necessarily reflect a collective opinion of the EMP cohort or that of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Reflection from the Racial Health Disparities in Chicago: What Can Be Done? panel by Jessica Adepoju. For a quick summary of the event, please visit the Chicago Maroon article.

I must admit that I went into this recent panel discussion—Racial Health Disparities in Chicago— having a very tenuous grasp on the woes and worries of healthcare. Of course, I’ve heard terms like “single-payer” and “Obamacare” (such a nifty word!) tossed around in political debates before. I also occasionally see State Farm health insurance commercials on TV. But that pretty much accounts for my knowledge on the subject. After listening to the panel, however, the subtleties of the healthcare system have become a little clearer to me. The issue of healthcare is a complex one, involving various social, economic, and institutional factors. Most interesting of all was the speakers’ repeated juxtaposition of healthcare as a right and healthcare as a business. All the speakers gave strong case arguments for healthcare as a universal right, and condemned the discriminatory and profit—rather than health—driven behaviors that manifest themselves within the business of healthcare. While I agree that our healthcare system needs definite reforms, I also felt certain reservations about the panel’s comments on profit-focused healthcare enterprises. In our effort to promote equality and compassion in the health system, we need to be cautious of demonizing the very lifeblood of innovation: namely, cold hard cash.

As Dr. David Ansell of Rush Medical Center explained, “almost all of medical care is about motivation”. The issue, he said, is that healthcare providers are being motivated to make profits rather than keep people healthy. And indeed, this often seems to be the case. Huge health disparities between rich and poor communities and a suspicious focus on profit-generating treatments among medical practices all seem to show that, increasingly, medicine is about making money. However, one should not forget the numerous ways in which profits benefit the healthcare system. The promise of high income draws many brilliant minds to the field of medicine that would otherwise seek out other occupations. And companies consistently dedicate huge resources into medicinal research and development. All this is done primarily for the sake of profit, not humanitarianism. And in of itself, there is nothing wrong with that. As Dr. Ansell sagely pointed out, even the best, most caring doctors can’t make things better without funding. The healthcare system needs it profit, if only because—indirectly—it inspires people to invest their energies into keeping others alive and well.