Sorry, John Mackey. I’m here to remind you that preventative care is health care and that health care is a right, not a privilege.
The CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, made headlines this week for telling Americans that we do not need health care, but instead we only need to adopt a healthier lifestyle. As a nurse, a doctoral student in public health, and someone who grew up in a low-income neighborhood, I am here to tell you that you are completely wrong.
That said, I understand how you rationalize your argument. Yes, Americans have the lowest life expectancy among comparable countries and have higher chronic disease burden, suicide, and obesity rates. But this is not all due to bad habits and unhealthy lifestyles. This is also a direct result from lack of access to social determinants of health, which includes health care, income inequality, and health inequities.
In a 2016 study on chronic disease disparities by county economic status, the Center for Disease Control found that poor counties had higher prevalence of hypertension, arthritis, and poor health outcomes compared to counties who were economically better off. Kaiser Family Foundation found that there is higher risk of being uninsured if an individual’s income is below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. POC are at higher risk of being uninsured as they only account for 43.1% of nonelderly U.S. population, but account for more than half of the total uninsured. An uninsured person who struggles to make ends meet will not be worried about their lifestyle when they are focused on surviving, especially during a pandemic.
Mackey argued, “The best solution is to not need health care.” But people need health care in order to stay healthy. Creating access to preventative health is the best solution. In fact, Healthy People 2020 identified access to health services and clinical preventative services as leading health indicators, and they even state that clinical preventative services are key in improving the nation’s health. These types of services complete routine disease screenings that will be able to detect risk and early disease development like cancer.
Early detection reduces health cost and risk of disability and death. A person who goes in for routine screening can become aware that their A1C increased to being at risk for diabetes and can make necessary changes before becoming diabetic. Early detection of cancer improves outcomes. You need health care for this.
I agree that we need to take responsibility for our health, but it is easier said than done if you cannot afford it.
The solution to this problem would be to create access and pass Medicare for all, reinvest and increase public health spending, fix the income inequality in this country, and provide access to social determinants of health.
It is inhumane to perceive health care as a privilege and not a basic human right. Yes, as a nation we can collectively make better health decisions and adopt better lifestyles. I am not denying that. But we also need access to health care, and Mackey shouldn’t be denying that.
Belia Llamas is a community health nurse with the Faculty Practice program at Rush University and Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare, a doctoral student in public health at Rush and a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.