Dr. Atul Gawande: 'Even people bankrupted by their healthcare costs said it wasn't a right'


Atul Gawande, MD, a surgeon at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital and writer for The New Yorker, said after conducting numerous interviews with people from his hometown, some of those residents feel healthcare should not be a right.

In an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel Sept. 26, Dr. Gawande discussed the reactions and beliefs community members from Athens, Ohio, hold with regard to federal healthcare programs.

For some individuals living in Athens, the type of healthcare coverage they receive differs vastly compared to others in the community, particularly those insured under the federal Medicaid program, Dr. Gawande said.

In one example, Dr. Gawande points to a woman he graduated high school with who makes $17 per hour as a librarian in Athens. The woman's frustration with the healthcare system, Dr. Gawande claimed, stems from her knowledge that the money she pays in taxes is used to pay for an individual covered under Medicaid who receives "better coverage than she can dream of."

However, at the same time, the residents he interviewed were "fully supportive of Medicare," Dr. Gawande told NPR. According to him, Medicare is viewed by some residents as an equal opportunity fund — those who contribute are meant to benefit equally and "whatever happens happens.” Medicaid, on the other hand, was viewed as a program that generally benefits the poorest individuals, according to the report.

"I think this ties [into] the core problem that we, going back now to World War II, linked where you get healthcare to your job. We didn't do that with our roads. We didn't do that with [our] schools. But when we did that with [healthcare] ... it's proved to be a mistake because we then have to figure out, how do we construct [healthcare] systems to capture people who aren't covered by their job," Dr. Gawande said.

He continued, stating "that kind of program — buy into Medicaid, buy into Medicare, an open system that allows people to get in according to their ability to pay — that comes closer to enacting the values that people were describing to me when I went back home."

To read a transcript of Dr. Gawande's interview, click here.


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