Human Rights Principles for Healthcare

Human Rights Principles

The Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign’s support of any healthcare reform legislation depends on our assessment of whether the legislation satisfies human rights standards. It is as simple as that. We wish to see the human right to healthcare embodied in law.

In evaluating a specific bill, we apply the human-rights principles of universality, equity, accountability, transparency and participation.

Universality is the principle that human rights must be afforded to everyone, without exception. It is by virtue of being human, alone, that every person is entitled to human rights.

Equity is the principle that every person is entitled to the same ability to enjoy human rights. Healthcare resources and services must be distributed and accessed according to people’s needs, not according to payment, privilege or any other factor. Disparities and discrimination in healthcare must be eliminated, as must any barriers resulting from policies or practices.

Accountability is the principle that mechanisms must exist to enable enforcement of human rights. It is not enough merely to recognize human rights. There must be means of holding the government accountable for failing to meet human rights standards.

Transparency is the principle that government must be open with regard to information and decision-making processes. People must be able to know how public institutions needed to protect human rights are managed and run.

Participation is the principle that government must engage people and support their participation in decisions about how their human rights are ensured.

In other words:

  1. Every person is entitled to comprehensive, quality healthcare.
  2. Systemic barriers must not prevent people from accessing necessary healthcare.
  3. The cost of financing the healthcare system must be shared fairly.
  4. The healthcare system must be transparent in design, efficient in operation and accountable to the people it serves.
  5. As a human right, a healthcare system that satisfies these principles is the responsibility of government to ensure.

Another way to apply these principles is by means of a set of questions, such as these:

  • Does the system provide healthcare to all? Or are some groups of people excluded, as if they are not entitled to a human right?
  • Does the system provide equal access to comprehensive healthcare services? Or does it separate people into different tiers of access or coverage, thus producing inequities, increasing administrative costs and weakening the system itself?
  • Does the system treat healthcare as a public good? Or does the system treat healthcare as a source of profit for powerful vested interests?
  • Does the system eliminate barriers to use of needed healthcare services? Or do “co-payments” and other out-of-pocket costs discourage people from accessing the care that they need?
  • Is the system financed equitably? Or do people pay for healthcare based on conditions that are unrelated to their ability to pay, such as age, health status, gender or employment status?
  • Does the system use money effectively and efficiently? Or do numerous “payers” with numerous administrative systems introduce unnecessary costs that add nothing to the quality of the healthcare provided?
  • Does the system allocate resources equitably, according to health needs? Or are some communities better served than others?
  • Does the system improve the quality of healthcare, by rewarding providers who utilize best practices and provide excellent outcomes? Or does the system simply pay providers for performing medical procedures?
  • Does the system enable meaningful community participation? Or are decisions made far from the people affected by the decisions that are made?
  • Is the system accountable to the people it serves? Or is it complex, mysterious and impervious to influence?

Detailed Human Rights Standards for Healthcare Systems

For the 2011 legislative session, the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign is using a set of human rights standards, corresponding to the principles, to allow for a consistent evaluation of any healthcare system proposal. These standards are available here.