March 23, 2017

The Key Health Care Question: Is It a Right or a Privilege?

medicine
Not everyone appreciated my recent bit of snark around how to do universal health care on the cheap. Perhaps health care is one of those issues that is just too important for weak attempts at humor. Even though that post was more about prayer than it was about health care, I recognize that tempers are running high right now around the health care topic, and I can certainly appreciate that. It feels like a great deal is now at stake when it comes to health care in the United States because...a great deal is now at stake. We're looking at the very real possibility of several million people losing their health insurance and devastating cuts to Medicare. I don't know about you, but I am not going to be able to afford to cover the health care costs of aging family members. When it comes to much of what is contained in the current version of the American Health Care Act, the picture is grim.

As far as health care is concerned, I believe that the key question over which we ought to be wrestling as a society right now is whether access to quality health care is a right or a privilege. And yes, I suppose that I should clarify that by "access," I mean access to affordable quality health care. I have access to a Lamborghini in the sense that someone would probably be willing to sell me one; however, this does me no good since I'll never be able to afford one.

For those of us living in the United States, access to quality health care is not currently a right. I believe that should change. I believe that access to quality medical care should be a right in the same way that access to safe drinking water should be a right (and yes, I recognize that it is not considered a right either). Moreover, I believe that universal government-run health care like what we see in most of the Western democracies with higher quality health care than we have here in the U.S. is probably the best way to do it. Basically, I think we need to get the for-profit insurance companies out of the way and do something like Medicare for all.

Are there things that should be privileges rather than rights? Absolutely. I have no right to that Lamborghini. That is pure privilege. Things like health care and safe drinking water, though, seem to take us into that "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" territory. I suppose I could argue that my possession of a Lamborghini is somehow essential to my pursuit of happiness, but it isn't.

I cannot help viewing this question as a moral one. I suppose any question about basic human rights is bound to be a moral question. In a just and moral society, I don't think it makes much sense that the poor would lack access to health care (or safe drinking water). I find that notion very difficult to defend, although I do recognize that some conservatives will indeed defend it and that they'll likely do so on moral grounds.

When I say that I think this is a question with which we should be wrestling, I mean that I am unwilling to insist that I am 100% right in my position and proceed to demonize anyone who disagrees with me. I do happen to think I am right, but that does not mean I will refuse to listen to those with different opinions. I may discover I am not as right as I think I am. In any event, I do not see anything to gain in attacking those who disagree with me because they disagree with me. And so, I'd prefer whatever wrestling is to occur to be as rational as possible.

Update: As I am sure you have heard by now, the Republican health care bill has been set aside. Some version of it will undoubtedly resurface at some point, but the American Health Care Act appears to be dead for now.