Is healthcare a human right? Smart people argue both sides of that question in a search for the best answer for US citizens. What about the European model? Has Singapore found a way that is much less expensive than European healthcare? We take a look as the ACA (‘Obamacare’) seems to be on the verge of collapse, and the US Senate comes up short of answers for this question, again.

Healthcare as a Right?

“It’s a great applause line, isn’t it, to say that “health care is a universal human right.  But after the applause has died down, we’re left with the question that the left rarely takes time to answer: what is health care?” — from a Forbes article on “Yes, Health Care is a Right — An Individual Right”

A piece published in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande, surgeon and public-health researcher, argues that healthcare should be a right based on how technological change has extended average lifespans and needs for medicine: “Medical discoveries have enabled the average American to live eighty years or longer, and with a higher quality of life than ever before. Achieving this requires access not only to emergency care but also, crucially, to routine care and medicines, which is how we stave off and manage the series of chronic health issues that accumulate with long life. We get high blood pressure and hepatitis, diabetes and depression, cholesterol problems and colon cancer. Those who can’t afford the requisite care get sicker and die sooner. Yet, in a country where pretty much everyone has trash pickup and K-12 schooling for the kids, we’ve been reluctant to address our Second World War mistake and establish a basic system of health-care coverage that’s open to all.”

The counter-argument for healthcare as a right is made in an article in The Washington Times entitled, “Healthcare Is Not A Right.” It is written also by a physician — Roger Stark, the policy analyst for Washington Policy Center’s Center for Health CareFirst. Noting that, “every citizen of Canada has government-paid health insurance, but the long wait times for treatment, most notably for specialty care, would be unacceptable for Americans,” Stark also observe that no one expects the government to provide for food, shelter, and clothing. It also notes that:

“Because of budgetary constraints, the demand for healthcare is much greater than the supply in virtually every county with a government-controlled healthcare system. Even Medicare, essentially a single-payer plan, is not financially sustainable.”

Stark concludes that healthcare is “an economic activity like any other”, and so, “society should work toward putting patients in charge of their healthcare, reducing the role of government, and focusing on access, not healthcare as a supposed ‘right.'”

Physicians tend to have strong opinions about healthcare as a right.  Daniel Summers writing in the New Republic observes, “As a pediatrician in private practice, I have grave concerns that implementing a rapid transition to a single-payer system would be far more disruptive to many Americans’ health care than Sanders cares to discuss.”  He believes the plan put forward by Bernie Sanders (‘Medicare-for-all’), would reduce payments to doctors and hospitals.

What are the pros and cons of healthcare as a right?

A cursory read of ProCon‘s argument page on US healthcare yields a list of the major points with concise arguments for each proposition:

  • The purpose of the US Constitution, as stated in the Preamble, is to “promote the general welfare,” not to provide it. vs. According to former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), as part of efforts to “promote the general welfare,” healthcare “is a legitimate function of government.”
  • A right to healthcare could increase the wait time for medical services. According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, 9.4% of Medicaid beneficiaries had trouble obtaining necessary care due to long wait times, versus 4.2% of people with private health insurance.  vs. A right to healthcare could save lives. According to a 2009 study by Harvard researchers, “lack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,789 deaths per year,” which translates into a 40% increased risk of death among the uninsured.
  • A right to healthcare could make medical services affordable for everyone.  vs. Providing a right to healthcare could raise taxes. In European countries with a universal right to healthcare, the cost of coverage is paid through higher taxes. 

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