A BIG PICTURE ISSUE: Is Health Care in America a Right or a Privilege?

by Frank L. Jordan III

We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.  ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, Jan. 11, 1944

The big picture issue when it comes to health care in America is whether it is a right or a privilege. Is it a basic right protected under our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or is it a privilege only secured for those who can pay for it? The progressive view is basically that it is a right, and the conservative view is basically that it is a privilege.

If a person holds that it is a human right, then they quickly come to the conclusion that health care insurance provided by big corporations will not be able to adequately protect that right. Corporations will always seek to profit from the needs, and in this case misfortunes, of their customers. Their goal will always be to pass these profits onto the shareholders. This system is inherently flawed when trying to protect the basic human right to health care for all Americans.

If a person believes that it is a privilege, then they adhere to the philosophy that if an American citizen cannot afford health care insurance, it is their personal problem. If a person cannot afford health care because they have a pre-existing condition, then it is their problem if they face health issues in the future and possibly economic ruin. It is not the obligation – in any way, shape, or form – of any other citizen to be responsible for helping to provide them with insurance.

President Obama and his fellow Democrats felt that health care was a basic human right when they passed the Affordable Care Act. They initially wanted to pass a single-payer system – virtually an extension of Medicare – but the political climate would not allow them to do it. So they tried to provide health care insurance for as many Americans as they could. But with the stresses of the free market system, which is always motivated by profit, this has become an impossibility. The basic human right to health care and the agenda of large corporate health care insurance providers to make a profit are not a good mix, to say the least.

What we are witnessing now is an attempt to return to a “health care as a privilege” philosophy. The new American Health Care Act bill is an attempt to cut subsidies for the working class and poor, to give the states the option to waiver protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and to eventually scale back Medicaid. This will free up money to support the Republican Party’s plan to enact major tax cuts for corporations and those couples making over $250,000 a year – in other words, the 1%. The 1% will be shielded from the harsher effects of this new health care plan (i.e., no protections for those with pre-existing conditions) because they will have more money in their pockets to deal with it.

So basically the only way to protect an American citizen’s basic human right to health care is for the current health care insurance system to be dismantled and for the country to go to a single-payer (i.e., governmental) system. Yes, it will probably mean longer waiting periods, more bureaucracy, and higher taxes. But this is the price we all must pay to ensure that the right to health care for every American citizen is protected.

Of course, all of this is determined by whether a person believes that access to health care is a right or a privilege. Every person must ask this question of himself or herself, in order to really know which direction they feel our American health care system should go.