College symposium tackles health care debate

Faculty members from an array of disciplines gathered for a symposium on Feb. 6 in the Business Building lounge to answer a seemingly simple question: “Is health care a right or a privilege?”

“You cannot have a right or social justice without universal health care,” Regina Kenen, professor emeritus of sociology, said.

The symposium’s discussion panel consisted entirely of faculty members from the College, encompassing such areas of expertise as nursing, sociology, philosophy and economics.

Kenen voiced the opinion that the United States’ lack of universal health care is connected to the nation’s relative inefficiency and lackluster treatment of the poor when compared to other industrialized nations. She cited data from The American College of Physicians and the World Health Organization illustrating the United States’ low scores on quality of health care.

But Kenen’s estimation of the U.S. health care system was not shared by some of her fellow panelists.

“I think we have the best health care in the world,” Bozena Leven, coordinator for the international business program, said.

Leven argued that while the government has an obligation to regulate large insurance, pharmaceutical and medical technology companies, the government should also be careful not to discourage companies from continuing to make breakthroughs in medical science.

“When you think about the research and development that goes into health care, it’s one of the highest costs,” Leven said. “And when you have government restricting it by controlling costs, you may have a situation where (pharmaceutical companies) are not willing to take a long time to develop a drug if there’s a risk that it’s not approved.”

Melinda Roberts, professor of philosophy and religion, argued that prioritized distribution of medical treatment will be inherent to any health care system, whether it is private or government-controlled, but that does not mean the system has to be unfair.

“I have a plea here, and it is that we not talk about maximization and efficiency on one hand and equity and fairness on the other hand,” Roberts said.

Roberts argued that cost-effective analysis could be used to determine how treatment is distributed by maximizing the number of quality-adjusted life years given to patients per dollar spent. Roberts acknowledged that this system has some controversies surrounding it, including accusations of ageism.

Leslie Rice, assistant professor of nursing, spoke of her service at the Trenton Adult Health Clinic and how such clinics can serve as models in relieving the strain on overburdened emergency rooms, a problem in the treatment of patients without primary physicians.

While Rice was able to shed some light on how health care providers attempt to treat those in need, she was unable to answer the biggest question of the symposium.

“Is health care a right or a privilege? I don’t know,” Rice said. “All I know is that if people just got sick and died the minute they got sick, then this wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is, people don’t. They get sick and they stay sick for many, many, many, many, many, many months. And it is a drain on the whole health care system, on the way they’re treated, on the way . hospitals are set up and the way they’re treated at hospitals.”

The symposium drew a large crowd of faculty, students and members of the surrounding community.

Maria Delacruz, senior marketing major, said that while she found the symposium informative, she felt the panelists strayed off-topic.

“I felt like nobody really answered the question of whether health care is a right or a privilege,” she said.

But Marisa Schweber, freshman English major, said she thought the panelists did an admirable job of tackling an unanswerable question.

“I think because there were so many different panelists with different areas of expertise, you got a lot of different perspectives on the subject,” she said. “You see there’s no right answer to the problems in our health care system.”