In his latest comment, Philip H has accelerated my reluctant discussion of health care reform. In fact, it was Philip who bullied me into writing about this topic in the first place. I’ve been avoiding wading into this mess, but being on the front line, it’s in my face every day.
What he says in his latest comment is this:
[T]he idealogical leap PalMD is asking for is a good one, but it misses the mark. The leap we need to make is that healthcare is not a good, like Cheerios, or cars, or flatscreen tv’s, that exists in anything like a free marketplace.
Commenter Donna B. makes a tangent assertion, that in fact health care is, “a service, a good to be purchased, and is therefore not a “right” as such (she also does not have a problem with government subsidizing or being involved in some way, so don’t stomp all over her without reading her full words).
If health care isn’t a “good” in the sense of “commodity”, and it isn’t a “right”, then what is it?
There are people much more knowledgeable than I when it comes to what a “right” actually is. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t all share a common understanding of what a right is; given that, it’s not surprising that we don’t all agree on which things are rights. But I think we can end up a little distracted when we focus too much on the question of whether health care is one of these “right” thingies.
Philip and Donna have highlighted a commonly held idea that health care is either a “right” and a “commodity like any other”. It may, in fact, be neither one.
Health care is not a commodity like any other. It is more akin to water and food than to Cheerios. Sure, you can choose not to purchase or use it, but eventually you will need it, and to go without it poses a mortal danger.
But if it is not a simple commodity, neither is it clearly a right. Here in the U.S., it certainly isn’t an enumerated right. So if health care is not an explicit right, could it still be a “right”? What would it mean for health care to be right?
Remembering that I’m not an ethicist, I don’t think that simply calling it a right requires the government to provide it. The government cannot impede you from printing what you will but it doesn’t have to provide you with a printing press. But what about airwaves and bandwidth? Must the government make these available?
This brings up another distinction—health care services, vs. health insurance. We might be able to agree that everyone has a right to access to health care services (whatever that right to access may mean). But if the only way we provide access is via purchased health insurance or limited government benefits (except in emergencies) then we are denying people not only insurance, but access as well.
As a nation we value, among other things life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (explicitly!). These things, along with prosperity, are not possible without good access to modern health care. If this access is granted only by employment, the purchase of insurance, and limited government programs, we are denying access to a large segment of our population. I don’t think it matters much if we call it a right or a rutabaga—we cannot maintain our values without a commitment to providing at least a basic level of health care to all. If we cannot provide this via the current employer/individual/government system, then it’s time for a change. There seems to be a fear of this change, but in this case, fear of change may literally cost us our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.