You Win: Health Care Is Not a Right

That’s right. Health care is not a right. Anyone asks you, you can point them right here.

I have a good reason for conceding this, but it comes with a condition. The reason is that many of us have habituated our thinking about “rights” around the idea of inalienability, and specifically limited to those outlined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. In other words, our language is changing. While the notion of positive rights that are not inalienable and can be legislated still has currency both among liberal and conservatives (think “right to know”, “intellectual property rights”, right to food safety, etc…), increasingly we default to negative, inalienable, Constitutional “rights” when using that word. I’m willing to let that definitional slide continue, but I ask for a concession in return.

That is that we drop the dichotomy of “right” versus “privilege” altogether in discussing health care and instead discuss whether and in what respect it is a societal responsibility. And, we must take seriously the possibility that it is. Furthermore, we must ask what this question implies about the commoditization of healthcare.

A couple of questions to get things started:

How is health care like and unlike potable water?

Why, in America’s largely commoditized healthcare system, do infant mortality and other indicators of an effective system compare so unfavorably with such indicators in other developed countries, especially compared with the amount of money spent on health care?

Should healthcare products be marketed to the public in the same way that other consumable goods are marketed? Does such marketing improve quality of care or detract from it? How much of every health care dollar spent goes toward marketing of pharmaceuticals and other health related products?

Should health care be available to all, or to those who can afford it at prices most favorable to profitability of providership?

In answering these questions, I find a number of reasons to look at healthcare as a societal obligation that is better addressed through a system that operates with enough public oversight to ensure that healthcare is available to all and that it is administered with thought toward improving health over increasing profit in those circumstances where there must be a trade-off between the two. How do you answer them?

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