Why People Believe Health Care is a Right, Even When They Say They Don't

During my week without opinions, we touched briefly on the subject of health care, a subject of tremendous importance to me personally and a subject of much debate and scrutiny as congress works through various proposals for reform.

Although I’m trying to avoid commenting too soon about the positions I highlighted last week, (as a retroactive response would sort of defeat the purpose of the experiment), I would like to address why I believe we may share more common ground than we might realize.

In talking about health care, the first question people often ask is, “Do you think health care is a right or a privilege?”

This question is beside the point. In fact, I would argue that, regardless of political persuasion or religious conviction, most people in America believe that access to health care is a right.

Here’s why:

Let’s say a ten-year-old girl is brought into the local ER with life-threatening injuries sustained from a car accident. Let’s say she needs treatment immediately. Now, let’s say her parents are uninsured and can’t afford the life-saving treatment she so desperately needs.

Should the girl be turned away because of her inability to pay?

If you answered no, then you believe she has a right to health care.

The fact that most Americans actually believe that their fellow citizens have a right to health care (which is a good thing) explains why the system is so screwed up right now (which is a bad thing). The truth is, we are already paying for health care for the uninsured. In America, a person cannot be turned away from an ER because of his or her inability to pay. So that little girl will get the treatment she needs, the costs for that treatment will be absorbed by the hospital, and you and I end up getting bills that show we paid $100 for a Q-tip when we stayed overnight for an appendectomy. Our ERs get crowded with the uninsured. Costs go up. Premiums go up.  Everything goes up... except for fair and reliable insurance coverage, which goes down.

I would argue that it is our basic, God-given sense of right and wrong that tells us that little girl should not be left to die. It is our basic sense of right and wrong that tells us the poor (and increasingly, the middle class) have as much a right to life as the rich. It is our basic sense of right and wrong that tells us it is unfair when a cancer-stricken woman is laid off from her job, loses her health insurance, and then cannot get it back because of her preexisting condition. It is our basic sense of right and wrong that tells us millions of people should not have to face the choice between a lifetime of debt and the life of a loved one.

We may disagree about how to fix health care, but I hope we can agree that this basic sense of right and wrong that compels us to provide care for that little girl in the ER is not the part of the equation that needs fixing. Just as I believe the unborn have a right to life, I believe the born have a right to life—regardless of their status or income or insurance coverage.

What do you think?

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