Do People in the U.S. Have a Right to Health Care ?
Is there a right to health care? Those that argued for a single-payer option during last year’s health care reform debates believe passionately that people do. Opponents of the proposed legislation think just as strongly otherwise. This accounts, to this day, for the deep divisions between those who are for and those against the Affordable Care Act. In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted earlier this month and exactly one year since the health care reform bill was signed into law — 37 percent of those surveyed said they supported the law, while 59 percent said they opposed it. In March 2010, those numbers were nearly identical, with 39 percent supporting it and 59 percent opposing it. What is the basis for peoples’ thinking on the subject and why the deep divisions?
Those who think people are entitled to health care find validation in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a document signed by the U.S. in 1948. Article 25 states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including …… medical care The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a U.N. document affirmed by the U.S. in 1966, guarantees the right of everyone to the highest standard of health possible. Since these are not formal treaties, Congress has never voted on them; and the U.S. remains one of the few, if not the only, developed nations that do not provide universal health coverage for its people.
Looking to the laws in the U.S., both sides of the argument cite The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution to support their position. The Preamble to the Constitution declares that we, the people, in forming a more perfect union must, among other things, promote the general welfare. Proponents argue that health care is fundamental to a people’s welfare and, therefore, an inherent right. In response, the opposition points out that ‘promote’ does not mean ‘provide’.
Then there’s The Declaration of Independence which states all men have an unalienable right to life. Not providing health care, according to the rights advocates then, is denying people that right. The opposing side, on the other hand, sees the liberty of citizens infringed upon when they are forced to provide health care for others. The freedoms we’re granted in the Constitution, they say, don’t allow us to infringe on others’ freedoms. As an example, they cite the fact that we can freely own firearms, but the government isn’t required to provide them. Rights people counter with the fact that even though education is not explicitly cited in the Constitution, it is necessary for our well being and, as a result, every community in the U.S. provides public schools.
Since I know people on both sides of the argument, I though I’d conduct my own ‘poll’.
Some were absolute in their opinion:
- “Access to health care is a human right. It shouldn’t depend on someone’s financial resources.”
- “Life and death decisions should not depend on how much money you have. If rich people can have organ transplants and expensive drugs, these should be available to poor people as well.”
- “There is no ‘right’ to health care. People who’ve worked hard should not have to pay for others’ needs. People will stop being responsible if they know someone else will take care of them.”
- “I don’t believe people owe others unrelated to them the right to healthcare. I do, nevertheless, think that, voluntarily, it is the right thing to do. Giving people, however needy, a blank healthcare check is not the way to go.”
But most of the responses began with “it depends”. For instance:
- “It depends on whether people have made healthy choices in their lives. If their medical problems were caused by smoking or over-eating or drug abuse, I shouldn’t have to pay for them.”
- “It depends on whether they’re legal citizens. Why should we pay for people who come here illegally?”
- “It depends on whether their condition is life threatening. I shouldn’t have to pay for elective treatments like in vitro-fertilization.”
- “It depends on their situation. How can you tell if they can’t afford it or really need it? If something is free, people won’t respect it.”
- “It depends on how people get access to it. If something is free and limitless, it gets overused. Maybe an allowance system with catastrophic insurance to protect life savings would work better.”
Most people, it seems, want to help people in need, but they don’t want to write blank checks. So, I’m thinking the better question to ask is “To What Extent Do People Have a Right to Health Care?” Since arguing about the merits of the health care reform law is just going around in circles, why don’t we push politics aside for a moment, and address this underlying question instead? That approach would more likely lead to the civility and compromise we crave on addressing this divisive law. We might even solve our national health care problems.