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Dr. Atul Gawande: Is health care a human right?

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David Leonhardt and Atul Gawande discuss health care
David Leonhardt and Atul Gawande discuss health care at the 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival.
Dan Bayer | The Aspen Institute

Dr. Atul Gawande, the famed surgeon, New Yorker writer and best-selling author was invited to the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado to address the question, "Is health care a human right?"

Atul Gawande says our health care system is a hodge-podge, and there will be winners and losers in the transition to something better and more affordable.

The reason there is greater support for Medicare, than for Medicaid and Obamacare, Gawande says, is because we all pay for Medicare, according to our income, and we feel we're benefiting fairly. 

He referred to the "World War II mistake," when employers facing wage controls were allowed to give workers health insurance. Then we built the rest of the system around it. 

"The result is, in your neighborhood, people get remarkably different deals. Depending on where you work, you can have a place that has amazing benefits."

And then, Gawande said, "we get a politics that's deeply corrosive," where people resent what other people are getting, be it from Medicaid or some other program. 

The Medicaid program has comprehensive coverage, dental care, vision care, no deductible, no co-pays and no premiums, Gawande said. "The challenge," he said, is that "it's not open to all, and the average taxpayer is paying for it, and they feel they don't have access to it." 

Fairness in health care coverage is key, he concludes.

"For most of human history, our problem was ignorance. But now, equally big is the failure of execution," in health care, but also in education.  

Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a Harvard professor, a New Yorker writer and the author of several best-selling books, including "The Checklist Manifesto" and "Being Mortal."

Gawande was recently named CEO of a joint health venture launched by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase. 

The moderator at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado on June 25, 2018 was David Leonhardt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning op-ed columnist for the New York Times.

To listen to their conversation, click the audio player above.