Health: Let’s Leave Polarizing Politics Out of It
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | September 18, 2020
A few years ago, my husband’s friend from Australia (visiting the U.S. on business) stopped by. I think of him as your friendly, garden-variety Aussie bloke.
We sat on the porch and drank iced mint tea. Because I love learning how people think (or maybe I’m just nosey) I asked him lots of questions. At one point I asked him if he considers himself liberal or conservative. He told me he was definitely conservative.
Then I asked what he thinks about the Australian health care system. “I don’t really think about it much,” he replied. “But we have a pretty decent system.” So, I dug a little deeper and asked if he thinks everyone in the country should get health care and he said, “Yeah, sure.” Then I asked if, as a conservative, he thought it was a good idea for government to be providing health care.
He shook his head a bit confused, then he squinted and grimaced slightly replying, “It’s not really a political issue in Australia.”
Well good on ya and welcome to America mate, where everything is political these days.
Here’s a conservative, middle class, middle-aged Australian suburbanite arguing that health care isn’t political. I’m sure there are some folks in Australia who don’t think that it should be guaranteed by the government, but for the most part it’s an accepted and expected part of life. And most Australians know it’s not perfect (my mother-in-law had to wait more than a year to get knee surgery) but still, it’s a right – available to all.
The other day I was chatting with my uncle who lives in Cleveland and considers himself a Republican and perhaps even a Libertarian. “Basically, I’m an individualist,” he told me. I asked him about health care. Is it something that we should nationalize?
“No,” he said, “People need to take care of themselves.”
I agree with the second part of his sentence because 90% of the $3.6 trillion that we spend annually on health care is sucked into the black hole that is chronic, largely preventable diseases. People certainly need to take better care of themselves and stop expecting the health care system to do it for them.
We need to initiate a major cultural shift towards healthier ways of being like those offered through the traditional dinacarya, or yoga lifestyle practices including healthy food and eating habits, good sleep hygiene, effective self-regulation habits like regular yoga postures, meditation, and breathing practices, better social support, more physical activity, etc.
We need to take our health back and to take our power back from the pharmaceutically driven, for-profit health care world.
But/and, I would argue that this opinion is apolitical. If anything, it’s simply ethical. Each life is precious and should be treated with great respect and care – by ourselves as well as by others.
So, here’s another opinion – human beings should have access to quality health care when they need it, regardless of their economic status.
I don’t want people to die homeless in the streets. I don’t want anyone to have to choose between a beta-blocker and dinner. I want folks to be able to get an appendectomy without going bankrupt. I don’t think anyone should hesitate to take an ambulance to the hospital after breaking a collar bone in a car accident.
I consider these opinions common-sense, driven by morality and ethics – not by politics.
For a long time, health care researchers have known that health is not simply based on an individual’s behavior patterns. In fact, individual behavior accounts for only 30% of your health outcomes. That’s right, 30%! But guess what, good health care accounts for even less, only 20%.
So, what about the other 50%?
Social and environmental factors – or what’s broadly termed, “The Social Determinants of Health” – things like access to clean air, water and food, safe neighborhoods, education, employment, income, support, decent housing and transportation. Fifty percent of your health outcomes are based on these social determinants.
Here’s a detailed chart:
The founder of the Institute for Health Care Reform and the architect of the Triple Aim framework for improving healthcare, Don Berwick, M.D., recently wrote an article called, “The Moral Determinants of Health.”
Berwick argues that we have to bring morality back into the health care conversation – that an internal compass of right and wrong should be driving the way we think about health in America. We both have to invest more in the health of the nation as well as reduce costs.
He writes: “Neither will happen unless and until an attack on racism and other social determinants of health is motivated by an embrace of the moral determinants of health, including, most crucially, a strong sense of social solidarity in the US.”
Solidarity. It’s not some sort of anachronistic, weird communist ideal – it’s the most human way of being.
Can we stop forcing ourselves into the ill-fitting shoes of political loyalty for a moment and start coming together to agree that we need to do something about the abysmal state of health in our country?
Berwick suggests that we think about health in the same way we think about national defense – it’s an essential, imperative part of taking care of each other.
Yoga practice can help people feel clearer about their values and their ethics and act from a place of inner self-knowing rather than the interests of political pigeon holes. In this age of COVID-19 where egregious health disparities have floated to the surface of our collective awareness, we are called to make radical structural changes in many aspects of our culture. Even my conservative uncle told me, “We have to do something about racism.”
COVID-19 has also pushed the envelope of self-care.
Yoga practice is no longer simply a nice idea, it’s essential. It can be part of a lifestyle transformation that supports folks who have health problems and also prevents disease. We have to figure out ways to help more people access it – and deliver it in ways that are trauma-informed, culturally sensitive, and accessible to all.
Whatever bank of the river we prefer to walk politically, we must gaze across the water and find our shared humanity. We have so much more in common than we think. In solidarity we need to address health problems. In solidarity we need to address festering social problems, in solidarity we need to lift each other up and help each other improve our collective health.
Essentially, we need to accomplish two things around health – taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other. We are morally called to do both, and we will be better able to address this pressing problem when we stop politicizing it.