Healthcare: A Sociological Perspective

A society is able to work at its best capacity when all of its members and groups are functioning adequately and are beneficial to society.  In order for these groups to function and benefit society, they must be equipped with the resources necessary for overall health and wellness. Healthcare has become one of the most controversial public matters over the last few decades – we constantly argue over whether medical care should be a right or a commodity. Currently, medical care is an obvious commodity, benefitting those who can afford it and neglecting those who cannot. While it may be tough to hope that healthcare will ever be a considered a “universal right”, there are discernable progressions in the field of medical care that don the possibility of expanding aid to those currently underinsured or uninsured. Sociologists examine the effects of healthcare and healthcare reform in terms of the costs and benefits and how different theorists interpret this controversial subject.

When we hypothesize that society is only able to function well when all of its members are provided the means necessary to obtain proper health care, we are theoretically taking a functionalist perspective. A functional order theorist would argue that we need all members of society to be as healthy as possible in order for them to contribute to society through their normal roles. On the contrary, a conflict theorist would argue that, in providing everyone with health care, we are encouraging an inevitable struggle over scarce resources. Ultimately, one side is arguing that universal healthcare is mandatory for a functioning society, while the other rebuttals that it is not a crucial necessity for every person, and that we need to consider how we can best utilize our resources. It is conflicts like these that make healthcare such a controversial subject, and that have subsequently delayed any kind of progress.

Minorities are habitually segregated in healthcare. Feminist theorists focus on the domination of Caucasian men in medical societies and the lack of attention minorities, especially women, receive with America’s current healthcare plan. Since healthcare is currently hard to obtain due to strict regulations and boundaries, many people have considered alternative solutions to standard medical care. One popular alternative is to focus ones attention more so on the prevention of the disease, rather than the treatment itself. Many threats to ones health are preventable—such as suicide, heart attacks, or broken bones—and many physicians and companies are starting wellness programs to prevent such health issues from occurring, and ultimately lower medical costs. Another common alternative to our current system of health care is alternative medicine. With focus on acupuncture, yoga, meditation, herbal remedies, and other possible substitutes, both standard and alternative doctors are able to avoid high medical costs and scathing insurance rates while focusing on cheaper and easier antidotes for their patients. Many conflict theorists, in concurrence with many Western traditional physicians, claim that these alternative solutions do not make sense, that they are based on the ignorance of superstition, that they leave room for bias, and that they encourage physicians focus all of their attention on these alternative and consequently pay too little attention to those who are actually injured or unwell.

The United States’ current healthcare program has been under intense scrutiny for the last decade. Our society has been hounding the government to figure out what exactly they plan to do about the high numbers of uninsured or under-insured people, and the high costs they require for decent health insurance. While this issue has long remained stagnant, on March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which will provide low-cost insurance to the 44 million Americans who are currently uninsured; signing this act is the first step in President Obama’s plan to lower healthcare costs and expand healthcare to make it more readily available. Order theorists, along with many liberals and Democrats, strongly support the idea of providing universal healthcare. Order theorists reason that Obamacare is beneficial to a functioning society because it provides all groups and individuals with the means necessary to maintain good health and wellness, thus promoting their everyday contributions to society. Conflict theorists, however, reason that providing universal healthcare would be a waste of a precious resource, and that benefits that universal healthcare would produce are not worth the costs of abusing our dwindling resources.

If we were to ask ourselves the question, ‘what should the U.S. do about these healthcare issues?’ we are ultimately triggering our inevitable political bias. There is no infallible solution to social healthcare problems. Much like many other political controversies, it is based on an opinion that will diverge greatly among different societies, social groups, and political parties. However in pursuing Obamacare, our government is promising affordable healthcare to every American citizen through the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid. While this act would theoretically solve our current issues with healthcare, arguments will continue to be made in regards to depletion of resources and abuse of certain social groups. If we, as individuals, were able to do anything to support healthcare, it would be to spread awareness of alternative solutions and eliminate political ignorance in terms of healthcare’s costs and benefits.