Sunday, March 8, 2009

Healthcare Is a Right!

Now that President Obama is turning his attention to reforming the US health care system, those on the political right who are smarting from the Democratic victory on the stimulus package are readying themselves for battle again if one is to believe Congressman Zach Wamp (R-TN) commenting on President Obama’s recent health care summit.

"Health care is a privilege," before clarifying that he meant, “It's not necessarily a right” for those who choose not to pay for health care. He asserted that of the 47 million uninsured, half opt out of their employer’s provided health care.

“It's probably the next major step towards socialism,” Wamp began. “I hate to sound so harsh, but.... this literally is a fast march towards socialism, where the government is bigger than the private sector in our country and health care's the next major step, so we oughta all be worried about it."

The conservative argument about health care being a privilege is one of the major obstacles to any kind of bipartisan cooperation. To say that someone who needs medical attention to get well or even to live but cannot afford it is on their own would be crazy for even the hardest right-winger. So the argument must be softened by saying that many of the 47 million uninsured chose not to have insurance and the remainder can be helped with tax credits.

Wamp said the GOP is for "extending health care to the people that need it, not turning the whole health-care system over to the government.” And he added that any solution should be "through the tax code; you give incentives for people to have health insurance."

A Wall Street Journal Health Blog written in October during the presidential campaign has John McCain saying the following:

I think it’s a responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member.

So empty rhetoric about socialism aside, both men seem to agree that everybody who wants it should have access to affordable health care which whether they admit it or not, implies that it is a right. The differences in political philosophies mostly lie in the way they want this is to be accomplished.

But an even more hard core argument (that I’ve heard many times before) was made in the comments to this blog by Peter Balsam, MD that I would like to share here:

It is a privilege. Those who argue that it is a right use the argument that people need health care. If so, there’s a long list of things that people need, food being pretty prominent, and therefore, the people have a right to food, clothing, education, haircuts, an automobile……

Yes, people need health care like they need a lot of other things like food and clothing. But health care is different than all the other needs because especially for needed visits to the hospital (which can easily result in a six figure bill), it can be both vitally needed and unaffordable at the same time unless one has adequate and affordable health insurance to protect against financial catastrophe.

So once all the rhetoric is stripped away, the problem to be solved is how to make adequate and affordable health insurance available to all who want it — and the sooner we get rid of the hot air about health care being a privilege the sooner the two sides can work on coming up with the best way to accomplish this. In a previous blog posting, Why Not Medicare for Everybody? I argue in favor of a single-payer health insurance system. President Obama does not favor this system, but with companies like General Motors needing public bailout money in no small part because of its crushing health care costs for its present and retired employees, maybe he ought to reconsider.

It is interesting that education was mentioned in the list of examples by Dr. Balsam. But a public school education is generally accepted as a right for all of our citizens. Schools are funded by taxpayers whether they have school age children or not. We do this because a basic education for all of its citizens benefits our society as a whole. If we can accept this premise for education, why can’t the US accept this same premise for health care like the rest of the industrialized world? After all, what is more important to us than our health?

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