Is Health Care a Right or a Privilege?

Democrats believe that health care is a moral right deserved by all Americans. Republicans believe that health care is an economic privilege deserved by those who can afford it. I believe that Democrats are on the right side of history.  In the 19th century, the North argued that slavery was morally wrong, regardless of the economic implications. The South argued that slavery was economically desirable, regardless of the moral implications. The modern parallels are striking, and while I’m sure that Republicans would scoff at such a comparison, I would point to a comment made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on “Meet the Press” this weekend:

DAVID GREGORY (HOST): Do you think it’s a moral issue that 47 million Americans go without health insurance?

SEN. McCONNELL: Well, they don’t go without health care. It’s not the most efficient way to provide it. As we know, doctors and hospitals are sworn to provide health care. We all agree it is not the most efficient way to provide health care to find somebody only in the emergency room and then pass those costs on to those who are paying for insurance.

The moral flaw in Senator McConnell’s argument is that he asserts that emergency room care is economically inefficient for those with health care, not morally insufficient for those without it. Read his statement again: he’s saying that the biggest problem with health care is its undesirable impact on those of us who can afford to pay for it. I don’t accept that the emergency room is an adequate form of health care any more than I would accept that sharecropping was an adequate form of freedom.

When in conflict, life must triumph over money. Everything we know tells us that this is true.

We are obligated to provide universal health care to every American because we are capable of doing so; because saving lives is morally superior to saving money; and because deciding who lives and who dies should never be the work of a for-profit industry. We must consider it our moral duty because we uphold the virtues of good samaritanism, of helping thy neighbor, and of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. We are obliged because we have promised to do so every time we sing our anthem or wave our flag or pledge our allegiance. 

To suggest that our nation is incapable of providing universal health care is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of greed: that your wealth is more important than your neighbor’s health. You cannot call yourself an American, for you have not yet earned the privilege.


26 responses to “Is Health Care a Right or a Privilege?

  1. “We are obligated to provide universal health care to every American because we are capable of doing so”

    We are capable of alot of things, that doesn’t mean we are obligated.

    “because saving lives is morally superior to saving money”

    Wheather this plan will save lives is debatable, does you moral compass include lives the world or just the U.S.?

    “because deciding who lives and who dies should never be the work of a for-profit industry” This is exactly what McConnell is saying, none of the 47 million will die because they dont have coverage… if there situation is life or death then it is law that must be treated.

    • The 47 million without insurance are much more likely to die because of a lack of insurance, which is exactly why we are morally obligated to help them. Providing them the option to see the doctor for minor medical problems before they turn into major life-threatening problems would indeed save lives.

      So I’ve got an idea. If we aren’t obligated to do everything we’re capable of, why don’t we eliminate our military? Why is the government obligated to pay for soldiers to protect me but not doctors? What’s the difference?

  2. centurybenefits

    Health insurance is neither a right nor a privilege. It is a responsibility. Every American needs to be responsible for their own health protection. Granted this is a big step for our current American mindset, but everyone at one point was insurable. Meaning, they could obtain health insurance. Everyone can afford catastrophic health insurance when they are in good health. Deductibles range upto $10,000 and higher these days. I hope one would never need to use that type of coverage, but if they do it is much easier to make payments on $10,000 than a $250,000 cancer bill. Simply people choose not to purchase coverage.

    The young invincibles create the largest uninsured demographic. They are not sick or hurt now, so they think, “why do I need to pay $60 a month for something I’m not going to currently use.” It is only after they have an injury or illness that they seek out coverage. By that time it is too late and they have become a burden on the healthcare system.

    You state that saving lives is morally superior to saving money. If this is the case then why do we have such an outstanding number of uninsured? It is because we would rather buy a big screen tv than purchase something that we will need to “save our life?” Does the moral compass need to be set by our congress and government? Or do we have the moral obligation to protect out health? There will be a point where a person becomes uninsurable meaning that they have a condition that prohibits them from obtaining coverage. We obviously do not know when that point is, but that is why we have insurance.

    • Does every American need to be responsible for his own military protection? fire protection? education protection? Surely if our society can see fit to provide these services, it could provide health services as well. I disagree that everyone is insurable, because I disagree that everyone is in a financial situation to afford health insurance. I also disagree that those with big screen TV’s are also those without health insurance.

  3. “If we aren’t obligated to do everything we’re capable of, why don’t we eliminate our military? ”
    Because we need to protect ourselves?!!!
    Why is the government obligated to pay for soldiers to protect me but not doctors? What’s the difference?

    Because if we are invaded and become the united states of Al queda, the doctors wont stop that from happening.

    The difference is soldiers protect our freedom…. teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc all are a product of that freedom.

    • What, exactly, are we protecting ourselves from? The senate shot down funding for 7 more F-22’s at the cost of 1.75 billion dollars. Are we now engaging Al-Queda in air to air combat? 1.75 billion doesn’t cover the price tag for healthcare but it’s a start.

  4. “Does every American need to be responsible for his own military protection? fire protection? education protection? Surely if our society can see fit to provide these services, it could provide health services as well.”

    military protection – yes or we could cease to exist
    fire protection- no, but it directly saves lives so its necessary
    education protection- once again no, the constitution doesnt say the governement needs to do any of this. But since education is in the best interest of the country the government makes a wise decision to fund it.
    healthcare services as well- It already does! like you stated… emergency, medicaid, medicare,… dont mix the argument…. the argument is does the goverment need to insure everyone? Because we have a military and school system does not mean everyone should have health care. In fact the government is probably capable of providing housing for all americans… why dont we do that? Because it is unamerican! land of the FREE home of the BRAVE

  5. I think it’s easy to dismiss health care as being non-essential when you have it, just like it’s easy to say welfare and unemployment are unnecessary when you’ve never needed them. Josh, you once said something that’s stuck with me: liberals tend to care about those in their income level and those below it, while conservatives tend to care about those in their income level as well as those above it. Health care is another instance in which that rings true.

  6. centurybenefits

    I understand your frustration on the cost of insurance. I field many calls of people that say they cannot afford heath coverage, yet they smoke a pack of cigarettes a day or drive to work rather than take public transportation (if available). The point that I am trying to make is that being responsible for the protection of our health should be a priority.

    This video explains the issue with the uninsured.

    Granted there are many small exceptions. For example, their are a true poverty that cannot afford coverage. For those we need to subsidize the premium for them. But it is their responsibility to have obtained coverage at the beginning.

    The main issue the cost. How can we afford a health care system for all Americans? Simply, we cannot. Look at the national budget spending for social security and medicare. It is nearly half of our budget. Now keep in mind that this only serves those from the age of 65-85 and some other deserved people. What would happen if we opened it up to the 0-85 age group? Where would we find the money? What area would we take it from? Education, Defense, social security.

    • 38% of the budget is defense and discretionary spending. 8% is interest. It is easy to make the arguement that defense spending is bloated and could find a way to contribute to the welfare of the common citizen in a more direct way. We can afford to fund health care.

  7. Centurybenefits: To say that the reason people are uninsured is because they are choosing to buy big screen TVs instead of health care benefits is both arrogant and uninformed. More people are choosing not to purchase health care benefits because it would impair their ability to put food on the table and pay for a place to live.

    TimmyK: If my body is invaded by cancer, the soldiers won’t stop that from happening. And the soldiers are a product of the doctors that kept them healthy and the teachers who educated them.

  8. backpacktwang:

    stay with the point…. of course soldiers aren’t doctors and yes they are treated by doctors and teachers. The point about soldiers is that they protect our country, that is why they are necessary. I dont know why this is an argument? What josh said was why does the goverment need soldiers and not doctors..

  9. TimmyK: I stayed with the point…at least as much as you did: “Because if we are invaded and become the united states of Al queda, the doctors wont stop that from happening.”

  10. centurybenefits

    perhaps the big screen tv comment was extreme, but definitely not informed. It is a fact that we spend money on areas that are not necessary, such as, dining out. There are many programs for those to enroll that prove that they cannot afford health coverage. Again, the issue boils down to money. Where would the funding arise? And where do our current dollars go pertaining to health care.

  11. well thank you for restating my answer to why we need soldiers

  12. It tends to make a lot of good people despondent and at the least susceptible, when they read, watch and listen to the maverick storm of media ads, thumping down President Obama’s health care initiative? Much of the rambling artifacts are the Simon and Lois ads of the Clinton administration, heavily armed against any revisions in this issue that wealthy insurance companies and subsidiaries won’t tolerate.

    They insulted the senior citizens with their propaganda and bald faced lies about the European government run health care system. Being originally an Englishman myself, I guarantee in the 1960’s, we had a unique form of medical services, inclusive of eye and teeth. Even government run medical care in Australia was exceptional. It did plummet down somewhat, when business starting recruiting foreign labor from the commonwealth and Northern Europe. Many were out for a free financial ride and got it, along with their large families that British citizens have to support with their limited pounds sterling.

    Just as the anti-governmental health care extremists have been pounding the airwaves, the open border, globalist is now subjecting the American people to a torrent of inflaming immigration polls. But like all polls they can be intentional manipulated, in exactly how the questions are worded? Sure they can keep their co-pays, deductibles and pre-existing small-print clauses, squeezing every penny from a hurting economy, but tell the–BLOODY TRUTH!

    It’s a sad fact that you cannot trust the Liberal slant regarding this searing problem, although not all Liberals are favorable to another AMNESTY? The Democratic leadership, hiding liberal views behind closed drapes tried to annihilate any good, workable illegal immigration enforcement laws. In an earlier session of the Senate an error was made with E-Verify, so it’s was fortunate to survive Sen. Reid and Pelosi’s notion? Anything that has an impact on removing illegal immigrants is intercepted by business oriented free traders.

    GOOGLE—illegal immigration–to find out their sinister intention, to just throw open the gates, ports and airline entrances to cheap labor, that also become the downfall of the European Union. the polling I have seen has been calculatedly –ENGINEERED–to get results, that they can brandish around, declaring the majority of Americans believe in a path to citizenship and open borders? Already the Democrats are ready to flag the Save Act, 287(g) local police enforcement to weaken these laws.

    Currently both issues have heavy fallout, and you the voter should let your Senator or Representative know your opinion on either matter at 202-224-3121—BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. Both have massive consequences in costs and quality of life in your future and generations to come.WE MUST SAY NO AMNESTY! SEAL OUR BORDERS AND NO MORE FREEBIES TO ILLEGAL ALIENS. THEY ARE THE CRIMINALS, NOT AMERICANS WHO SACRIFICE TAXES? GOOGLE–NUMBERSUSA for details our government and the media have a nefarious talent, for keeping facts under wraps?

  13. Not to debate a debate coach, but I think there are some fundamental questions that were left unanswered from your blog.

    Why are we only morally obligated to Americans? We can sacrifice our standard of living and save millions of Africans a year. Does your call for morality know borders?

    Do all American’s have a claim to all health care invented? Do I have a right to a liver transplant? Does my doctor then have a duty to give me a liver transplant? I don’t think I’d want to become a doctor if I was than mandated to provide my services morally to everyone.

    If I provide no benefit to society, does society have a obligation to provide for me? If I make bad choices, such as become an alcoholic, does society still have to provide for me? Isn’t that a negative incentive to living a good life or trying to acheive more?

    Do people who provide more for society deserve more in return? If we should all be equal in health care, shouldn’t we also all be equal in wage? Are all services a right? I’ll die without food before I’ll die without health insurance, so doesn’t the government have a moral obligation to feed me?

    Painting the issue as Republican vs Democrat is short sighted and continues to cloud the real underlying concepts of what we want from each other in society. What is the basis for our society? Choice? Freedom? Or is it to be provided for regardless of merit? Personally, I’m proud to say I’m an American because I have freedom of choice and know that I have opportunity based on the actions I take.

  14. To sum up:

    Pro: My heart is in the right place but I’m a bit idealistic.
    Against: Wah! I don’t want to share!

    Carry on.

  15. Dan:

    To sum up:

    Pro: Anything we are capable of doing, we are obligated to do.

    Against: The Government is not obligated to do anything by the constitution.

  16. Timmy K:

    Sorry Chappy, not buying it. The government isn’t obligated to provide social security, a standing military, educational benefits, etc.

    The constitution also didn’t obligate the government to allow women to vote, not own slaves, allow non-white people to vote, etc.

    People like to pretend there isn’t enough money to go around while we drop a trillion on Wall St, a trillion on a war, a trillion on insurance companies. Where’s the outrage? Why didn’t anyone ask how much the war in Iraq would cost? Here’s a theory. Its sexier to kill people than fix them.

    The higher tax brackets don’t pay much less here than in europe. What do you get for your american tax dollars? More guns. What do europeans get? Free college, free health care, not to mention decent enough military forces that we don’t mind begging them for help every time we decide to change a regime.

    This isn’t a question of obligation, its a question of not being a selfish jerk.

    But unfortunately, we’re too worried that someone else may get a little more than we do.

  17. Dan:

    I am equally outraged that our government spends like drunken sailors on leave. Companies who take bad risks should fail. Just as I think those who smoke should have to pay more for health care.

    However, it isn’t about “not being a selfish jerk”. It is about merit and entitlement. If I work harder, produce more for society (and thus make more money), don’t I deserve more in return? Why should I be punished a have economic resources that I helped create go to someone who didn’t contribute as much?

    The 1st rule of economics is there are finite resources but unlimited demand. To say we have enough for everyone is against human nature. If we had enough, then we’d want more, so there is never enough. If there ever truly was enough for everyone than there really wouldn’t be a debate, becaue everyone would get want they needed. In the real world, that never happens. There isn’t an extra liver, heart, and lungs for each person. Medications doen’t flow in rivers nor is the cure for every disease found on bushes just needing to be plucked. In the real world there are very limited medical resources and it takes economic resources to make and invent new ones.

    We do waste tons of resorces. The war in Iraq was a horrible waste. Saving AIG was a waste. Sounds like we agree that the government should take less action, not more.

    Just a thought, we don’t say that housing is a right, or even food is a right, yet those are much more critical to staying alive than health care is. Shouldn’t we work on universal housing or universal meals for all before claiming we have health care rights?

  18. Philbert:

    I’m probably oversimplifying your argument, but what I take from reading it is that.

    1. You are a libertarian (or hold many libertarian ideals)
    2. You like to break everything down to the nth degree to make ideas fit into your path of logic.

    Please don’t take either of those things as an insult as I, in part, agree with you.

    My response to your argument basically boils down to a few small points. You live in a society. You are not an island. While it may be wonderful to think that you are the sole product of your own labor I would venture to guess that you’ve been helped out along the way. I would also venture to guess that you were at some point helped by a government program. You may have “deserved” this help based on your own strict criteria, you may have not even realized you were receiving it. But it stands to reason that you have been helped along the way. You drive on interstate highways built by government programs, you eat government subsidized food, you sleep in your bed under the watch of a government funded police force, etc. It is possible that you deserve these things based on your formidable economic contributions and overall positive impact on society, but at no point was the government “obliged” to provide any of these items for you. Now perhaps you disagree with the existence of these programs. In such a case I would think it best if you were to recuse yourself of further benefit of them. Unfortunately, many of us lack the resources to hire a private teacher for our child, a private police force for our neighborhood. Which, again unfortunately, forces us to pool our resources with people we may not feel like are as worthy as ourselves.

    Your idea of a meritocracy, while interesting is not realistic. Where do you draw the line? What is the point at which your society stops functioning as a society and becomes anarchic?

    This could go on and on but I don’t feel like typing that much. So basically…

    How is it that you dismissing something that you may not need out of hand based on the fact that you don’t think the other guy deserves it anything more than the equivalent of a petulant child complaining that they’re being forced to clean their room while their sibling isn’t? That’s pretty quick and dirty, but I can’t sit here arguing all night.

    I enjoyed your earlier post. It was well written. Thank you.

  19. Dan:
    “The government isn’t obligated to provide social security, a standing military, educational benefits, etc”

    No doubt…. i guess we agree.

    “pretend there isn’t enough money to go around ”

    Just because the government has wasted money on other programs doesnt merit the right to use money on a giant health insurance program. I think you can see that logic.

    You comments about Euro… If you want the government to provide all that then go there….. this country was not founded by those principles. Still the U.S. does plenty to override those principles and give aid to those in need. I hope you can see that there is an in between ground that makes our country so much better.

  20. Philbert:

    I agree with your view. That risk is what makes America great…. take away that risk of failing and bad things will happen.

    The people of Iraq have a much more meaningful and different opinion on their fight for freedom….

  21. Timmy K:

    Please don’t give me that love it or leave it bullshit.

    Thinking such as this annoys me. People act as if the US was based on some alien set of principles that never existed in the world before hand. They sit and decry ideas they disagree with as “unamerican”. Circa 1776 women voting is unamerican. Slaves not existing is unamerican, non white males owning property or being educated is unamerican. And yes, a standing military is unamerican (see the standard thinking before the war of 1812 which changed Washington’s mind). You can’t pick and choose just the good parts and say “Oh wasn’t it grand back then?”. This nation will never be the nation it was before the civil war, before the depression, during the 50s, during vietnam, etc. We have to move on and evolve lest we get left behind.

    Honestly, I have just as much right to question my form of government as you have to apologize for it. You’ll have to forgive me if in MY idea of a great nation people help each other. I see health care for Americans as a point of pride. We have the most powerful military in the world, we have the most powerful economy in the world, is it not desirable for us to have the happiest, healthiest, most educated population in the world as well? None of these other goals were inexpensive or easy. Even if these things aren’t possible, or are expensive, aren’t they at least worth striving toward?

    I get it. You don’t want to help anyone. You want to sit on your pile of money until you die and then have it buried with you. Go for it. That’s the beauty of America. You can believe what you want to believe and I can believe what I want to believe and we both have just as much right to say and think what we want as the other person does. Which unfortunately for you, INCLUDES my ability to say this government is a smoking pile of fecal matter if I so choose. If this makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you should be the one to find a despotism that fits your ideals and take part in it. I have no problem with you disagreeing with me and would like to welcome you to stay.

    Wasteful spending is curious. You mention the risk of failure being something that is important. I hate to break this to you but the risk of failure only exists when you are small enough to not hold the taxpayer hostage. Regular hard working people fail all the time. Whatever security you believe you have earned for yourself vanishes anytime it is placed against the will of the 300 million citizens you share your nation with. As an exercise though, allow me to ask you some questions. Where were you when the risk of failing was removed? What did you do about it? What makes you choose NOW to draw the line in the sand? Why would you wait until after the wars, after the insurance bailout and after the wall street bailouts to act? Why would you wait until someone that actually needs some help could get some to cry foul? What are you really after?

    And to be honest how much of this is your idea and not something fed to you by a multi-billion dollar industry that could be legislated into non-existence overnight? You think an industry as large and flush with cash as the health insurance industry would go down quietly? You don’t think they would spread some FUD to cover their own backside? In my opinion, that’s pretty naive.

    You may believe that America’s greatness is a right, you may believe that America will always be the greatest nation in the world no matter her stance. I disagree, I believe America will only be great so long as she strives for greatness in all she does. And that includes taking care of her people.

    Thanks for the debate, I’m enjoying it.

  22. healthcare should indeed be a right. as a member of the working class i would never stand with some democrats, most republicans,oligarchs,insurance and pharma ceo,s and say healthcare isn,t a right.if my country says to me that healthcare is not a right,why should i or anyone in the working class stand in defense of or support a system that devalues most of it,s citizens in favour of wealthy profiteers????!!why should anyone who is told that they don,t have a right to healthcare be willing to die in a needless wars in oh say iraq or afghanistan?what kind of a system devalues it,s citizens in favour of profit??unregulated all for me screw the next guy capitolism!!!! capitolism is a good thing when there are social policies that protect and value all of the citizenry!!

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