Kaiser Permanente’s CEO: The Right to Health

"Suddenly the country is preparing to re-engage in a debate about health and health care and its role in our collective experience as Americans," Bernard J. Tyson writes.

By Kaiser Permanente’s CEO Bernard J. Tyson

Bernard J Tyson Kaiser

Bernard J. Tyson

Suddenly the country is preparing to re-engage in a debate about health and health care and its role in our collective experience as Americans. This debate creates a heightened sense of unpredictability and uncertainty as well as great opportunity. I maintain the glass is half-full, and that we can continue to make progress against our most pressing challenges. I am also practical and know that various views exist on how best to achieve this.

With a bird’s-eye view on the health of America, I’ve been thinking a lot about individual and community health. Can all people in America experience high-quality health and health care? How do we make high-quality health care accessible and affordable to all? And perhaps the most pressing question: how does the health care industry positively impact health for those who walk through our doors and live in the communities we serve?

As a $61 billion not-for-profit organization, I’m proud that we invest our dollars to benefit our 11 million members. And, equally important, is our commitment to make lives better for the people who live in the communities we serve. We take this responsibility very seriously. Whether it’s looking at the issue of public safety in the neighborhoods – or teaching youth about conflict resolution through play – the issue of health goes well beyond the time spent at the doctor’s office.

To further demonstrate this commitment to our members and communities, I recently appointed our first Chief Community Health Officer, Dr. Bechara Choucair. His job is to improve the health of the 60 million people in our communities – and to share what we’ve learned so that people across America and the world will be able to live healthier lives. We contributed $2.1 billion in 2015 to benefit our communities.

At Kaiser Permanente (No. 1 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list), we are guided by our four beliefs:

– We believe that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness require total health – and that includes equal access to high-quality health care for all;

– We believe that total health is more than freedom from physical affliction – it’s about mind, body and spirit;

– We believe that health care must be affordable for all – because thriving individuals, families and communities require that;

– We believe in a healthy and engaged life – with good beginnings and dignified endings.

I want to share our beliefs because better health is the foundation for being the best you can be while handling all of the roles and responsibilities 21st century life requires.

We need to have equitable access to higher quality and more affordable health care that gives everyone access to the front door of the American health care system. I talk to physicians and care teams on the front lines of care, who share their stories about how we are having a positive impact on people’s lives. We’ve seen thousands of examples demonstrating why access to coverage leads to better health:

– A woman who had an undiagnosed heart condition and who never had health insurance before walks through our front doors with an appointment to a primary care physician. Rather than coming to us as a heart attack victim sent to our emergency room, she received the right complex cardiac care from our physicians and care teams and has returned to being a productive citizen and matriarch with years left to be a mother and grandmother;

– A child who had severe asthma was not getting better. Our health care workers – with his parents – evaluate his home environment to better understand why the boy’s health isn’t improving. Then we fixed the problem.

These dual efforts – our commitment to consider every person living within the communities we serve and the policies that are helping provide access to the system for these people – are working in tandem. Still, we have much to accomplish and we must not lose sight of the goal. I am thankful for the opportunity to work for an organization whose employees and physicians are delivering health to more people each and every day. And good health should be everyone’s right – we just have to make it happen.

We look forward to working with the Trump administration, just as we have with the Obama administration, toward better health for all. The right to health is the America I believe in, because good health is necessary for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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