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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

As I thought about what to say at the Health Care for Maine conference, with its focus on health care as a human right, the larger context of the current election season kept creeping into my mind.  One phrase from the U.S. Constitution came to me over and over:  

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . .

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Just as our understanding of this phrase has been enhanced through the years – for instance, these unalienable rights now apply to women, people of color, and children – our understanding of what we in the United States need to achieve these rights has also evolved.

In today’s world, we know that life, liberty and happiness cannot be achieved without safe housing, reliable transportation, ready availability of healthy food, employment that provides sufficient income, effective education, and access to affordable, high quality health care. 

We have a long way to go in each of these areas.  But let’s focus on access to health care. 

In Maine, and across the nation, equity in access to health care does not exist.  A new report on Access to Health Care Services for Adults in Maine that MeHAF will release later in October tells a stark story.

  • Adults with incomes less than $25,000 are more than twice as likely not to have a regular health care provider as those with incomes of $50,000 or more.  
  • Those earning under $25,000 were also three times as likely as their wealthier counterparts to delay needed care because of costs.
  • Close to one-third of non-White or Hispanic adults have delayed care because of reasons other than cost (such as problems getting an appointment or lack of transportation).
  • Nearly a quarter of adults with less than a high school education were uninsured compared to only 5% of those who had graduated from college.

Why is access to health care important?  The factors that help people achieve their unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (like employment and housing) simply are not achievable if one does not have basic good health.  And when dramatic inequities exist, we must all take action to remedy them.

The good news is that there are successful strategies to reduce these disparities.  To expand coverage for low income individuals, Maine could adopt cost control measures such as those undertaken by states like Tennessee that have reduced Medicaid expenditures by over $11 million through payment reforms.  To support Maine people who are members of cultural and linguistic groups that experience barriers, widespread adoption of the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services will improve health care quality and advance equity. Community health workers, peer navigators, and increased linkages between social services and health care are also promising approaches.

To learn more about these strategies and others, watch for future blogs from me and other MeHAF staff in the coming months.

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