Question of the Day: Healthcare — Privilege or Right?

One of the terms I’ve seen used on this blog by commenters and in other pro-healthcare reform articles on the Web is that universal healthcare should be seen as a right and not a privilege of those with jobs who provide it or can afford it on their own. I’m pro-healthcare reform. I’ve both had healthcare through work and I’ve had to pay for it on my own at different times in my life. Currently I have no medical insurance as I can’t afford it. But there’s nothing in the law necessarily that says you are promised medical coverage, just as there was nothing in the law about Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare and Social Security before those plans were implemented. I’m also for those social welfare programs as well, but I recognize that there’s no promise that these plans will always be there. I’m already prepared for the reality that I’ll probably never really “retire” in the way my father did as he had a pension plan and I’m operating under the promise of a meager 401k and Social Security.

If you believe healthcare is a right, where do you draw your reasoning from? If you think it’s a privilege (one I can’t afford at this time), why do you feel this way? Answer below.

60 thoughts on “Question of the Day: Healthcare — Privilege or Right?

  1. I think healthcare is a human right – but not necessarily a legal right. The only law that I can think of that seems to reinforce that our society thinks of it as a right is that ERs must treat whoever comes in, regardless of their ability to pay. If healthcare was not a right, why wouldn’t we put the rights of the corporations and hospitals above that of the people who are not able to pay? Again, with the SCHIP programs, and medicare, our society has time and again reinforced that those who have do not have the ability to have healthcare (children & those below the poverty level) are given health care. I do not think healthcare is a free right, or one that should not and can’t be restricted in any way, but I do think that people should have the right to access affordable healthcare. This would include (in my mind) differing levels of subsides based on income level, which would help lower the cost of healthcare for those who currently make too much money to qualify for current government programs, but make too little to acutally afford healthcare due to the cost.

  2. I think that competent health care is definitely a right – though not an unbridled one. I think that there need to be limits on how much healthcare we can have when reasonably healthy to avoid clogging the system. Once born, we have a right to life – and how accessible is life w/o healthcare?

  3. "I think that there need to be limits on how much healthcare we can have when reasonably healthy to avoid clogging the system. "i agree. with the average american being overweight or borderline obese, i think it’s only right to a degree. i think a lot of people bring health problems upon themselves and we as citizens shouldn’t have to foot the bill for their irresponsibility.

  4. So far the posters only state that health care is a right but not why. The answer seems to be because I say it is a right. I’d like to hear why they think it is a right. And by the way, right now the only people that have a right to health care that the gov’t must pay for are those in the military and state or federal prisoners

  5. I think it should be a right. I dont feel that people should suffer physically or mentally when they can’t afford to pay. Of course there should be some limitations and some other things to consider, but bottom line, I dont think its right that only those that can afford healthcare have the right to "live" so to speak. I would love to see us all have basically the same access to the same healthcare…Most people who feel like it should be a priveledge have never had money problems…

  6. Healthcare is a privilege (nothing in our Constitution establishes it as a right) and thankful our state and federal governments make it available to a large number of people. I wish we could afford to give it everyone right now, but unfortunately, we can’t. We’re in massive debt and we can’t expect China to continue to bail us out. We’re under the threat of our currency collapsing in the near future if we keep taking on huge debt.

  7. It’s a privilege. Under no law is it required that a person be granted health insurance and taken care of in that way. However I believe it’s morally right for health care to be affordable and accessible to all. But as we can all see morals are hard to come by nowadays.

  8. For those who believe that we bring health problems on ourselves, I feel you are being disingenuous. I have a genetic pre-disposition to a certain chronic disease, and although I outran it for as long as I could, it eventually caught up with me. Is that my fault? Should I be denied healthcare because of my genetic predispostion to a disease? I would hope not. In regards to being overweight and obese, please don’t be patronizing. Obesity and economics have a lot to do with each other. Say what you will, but it is imperative that we all consider the health of others. It is funny how with this healthcare debate everyone has gotten so sanctimonious. I don’t want to pay for this, and I don’t want to pay for that. I didn’t want to pay for war, but guess what? I have to.In addition, when you truly think about it, I don’t want sickly neighbors, cashiers, or students, because they will make me sick as well. I would rather they be treated than allowed to incubate and breed disease.

  9. Morally, healthcare is the right thing to do.I’m biased because I’ve seen first-hand how a insurance company was willing to give my family member a death sentence all in the name of profit. I think it should be illegal to make money off of whether someone lives or dies. To deny someone a life-saving treatment, especially when it will drastically affect their quality of life, is deplorable and despicable. But I seem to be in the minority on that.

  10. I agree that health care is a right. Both Sara and RMJ make excellent points.Our health care system is broken along with many other aspects of our society. This greedy, me first attitude must end. Yesterday, someone posted that they’ll soon be a medicare recipient but the boat is getting too full. So does that mean it’s okay for you to get on the boat but no more after you? Opponents need to stop pretending that their objections are rooted in the amount this will cost (I admit, the cost is way up there!). Their real fear is that they won’t be able to see their physician b/c some poor, undeserving immigrant has taken their appointment slot. The H1N1 virus is coming back with a vengence. Isn’t it at least in everyone’s best interest to provide medical care to everyone to help stop the spread of these viruses?

  11. I believe that HEALTH is a right for all Americans. Therefore, Health Care, be it preventative, acute services (i.e. emergency room visits), and health education should be granted to every American. I believe that health = wealth, and i think this debate falls along the classic fault lines of equity and opportunity.

  12. If health care is a right then why not include food, clothing and housing as "rights" as well since all of those items are necessary for life as well? Also, I’m still waiting to hear why health care is a right.

  13. I believe that health care should be a basic right. No one should feel as if they are unable to obtain basic health services. However, I also believe that ideally, we should all take preventative measures within reason to care for our own health (including proper diet, exercise, not smoking, figuring out our genetic predispositions etc.). I realize that socioeconomic status plays a huge role in many people’s ability to care for themselves as they would like to, but these measures needn’t be costly. You don’t necessarily need a fancy gym membership or pricey organic foods to be healthy and fit. I think (wherever possible) that people should take an active interest in and more responsibility for self-care.

  14. Basic health care w/ preventive foresight is a right. Otherwise, the streets would look like "Dawn of the Dead. The insurance part is in between a right and a privilege, depending on who has it, how much money it costs, and its benefits. For instance, if you’re a thousandaire and need health care for you or your kids/spouse, insurance should be a basic right. If you’re a multi-$$$aire in need of hair implants or coverage for a mail-order bride, it’s a privilege. This stuff should be simple, but with the capitalistic mindframe coupled w/ human factors, it’s like trying to ace advanced physics within a week…LOL!!!

  15. There has to be a word that is not "a right" for believing that keeping individuals in the populace healthy is good for the collective, and that not making healthcare readily available is an a-holish thing to do. It’s unreasonable, for example, to expect your average citizen to cover the outrageous and prolonged cost of their own leukemia care, and unreasonable to expect people to just lie down and die. It’s stupid to have a 12-year-old die of a brain infection caused by a single, easily fixed infected tooth. But I’m not sure "right" is the word I want. It’s "moral," perhaps? Maybe not right, but "moral obligation." It makes us lousy people to not do this minimal thing; it’s not like the average individual would have to go above and beyond to make this happen — it’s not like the average individual would even NOTICE. Other nations have managed it and remained "first world" nations with no death squads roaming the #$&*(&*# streets.I guess I’m putting the onus/emphasis not on the sick, but on the rest of us?Danielle, I really appreciate how you seem sometimes to be struggling with the EXACT dilemmas that are on my mind, often at the same time. It’s comforting. Thank you.

  16. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say it’s a right in terms of something guaranteed by our constitution, but I do believe that everyone should have access to health care, for primarily selfish reasons similar to what Adeshola Blue wrote. We have to live together, and my ability to obtain health care for myself and my family will only go so far if the next door neighbor or my kid’s classmates or the people I interact with on a daily basis do not have access to health care and end up infecting me with something. It’s an economic issue too – people who are too sick to work are not able to contribute to the tax base, which affects the quality of the basic services that the city or state or country are able to provide to all citizens. And if the next door neighbor’s house goes into foreclosure because she got sick and then lost her job and therefore her health insurance and then couldn’t get treatments and got sicker and sicker…well, guess what, that affects the property values in the neighborhood and of my house, even if I’ve never been sick a day in my life. I believe that we’re all in this together and it is to everyone’s benefit for society to provide some kind of social safety net.

  17. Mac:Let’s be honest, when someone says something like health care is a right, what they really mean is that someone else should pay for it. I don’t have a moral obligation to pay for other peoples health care. Also, I’m still waiting to hear why health care should be a right. As for other nations that have universal coverage, they also have very high tax rates.

  18. individualistic society I tell you…just only care about YOURSELF..bump others..I’d rather let them DIE than for the govt to take out an extra 5 dollars out of my paycheck so we ALL can have decent healthcare*sigh*

  19. Scott: I dont think people are saying that other people should pay for it at all. I think that its more recognizing that the current system is very broken. I have very good health insurance right now through my job – if we start taxing employment provided health insurance as part of people’s income I will be hurt by this. That doesn’t mean that I dont think we should. I have seen too many people unable to buy health insurance, or thinking that they have good health insurance and having it fail on them at a critical moment when they need it most. We need the same type of regulations on privately held insurance that we have on employment-provided insurance. When both my husband and I were out of work earlier this year, i was 3 months pregnant. COBRA didn’t cover me because the job that i had lost was too small to count (under 20 people) and I could not buy health insurance because of my preexisting condition. I would have been covered under WIC, however my husband wasn’t covered under anything. I’m lucky in that I was able to find a new job and legally employment-provided insurance must cover pregnancy costs. But if this had been any other type of pre-existing condition (not pregnancy related) I wouldn’t have had WIC as an option. I would have no options at all for health insurance. And if you develop a condition, there is no legal reason why private insurance has to keep you on – they can drop you at any time. The fact that our very well-being is dependent upon having a job, and being able to hold on to it – something easier said than done in this economy – is part of what is broken. Saying that we need a viable public option (not mandatory – just a workable option) that people can buy into doesn’t mean that we are expecting others to pay for everything. It just means that if your job drops health insurance, or you lose your job, you have an option to turn too before you go bankrupt and qualify for existing government insurance where you must be below the poverty level. I realize that this doesn’t address the "why health care is / isn’t a right" but I addressed that in my first post – Society, by passing laws mandating that ERs treat people, has already asserted that at least emergency health care is a right.

  20. sarah:Someone is going to have to pay the bill for the folks that don’t have insurance, I mean you don’t expect the doctors to work for free do you? As for asserting that emergency health care is a right, the lawyer in me must beg to differ. You are referring to The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, EMTALA which is a statute which governs when and how a patient may be (1) refused treatment or (2) transferred from one hospital to another when he is in an unstable medical condition. The legislation doesn’t create a right to treatment but instead imposes obligations enforced by penalties upon a hospital that violates the provisions of the legislation.

  21. Healthcare may not be an explicitly stated right, but it is definitely something that should fall under the idea that a government is responsible for the safety and security of its residents. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it is the responsibility of members of the community to care for other members of the community. Now, this may mean preventive care and emergenyc/critical -inpatient only (ie body and soul together care), but there is a responsibility to lower the human misery in our communities. And sometimes, especially with infectious diseases, it is just plain old self-interest to provide care to people early before they infect youThat said I am biased on this topic since I work in public health and am working in a place where an emergency room visit at a top notch private hospital is $719 (with follow up health education visits at no charge!)

  22. We’re already paying for those who don’t have health insurance and for those who don’t have adequate insurance. No, doctors don’t work for free, but here’s what I’ve seen and know. I work in a hospital. Private insurance companies usually deny the first claim, lets say its for a string of lab tests. The patient calls to find out what’s happening. Most times it’s a coding issue – or so the insurance company claims. To be brief – the issue of the bill and who pays bounces around for months, sometimes longer. Sometimes the insurance pays, sometimes the patient has to pay, sometimes the doctors and hospitals wave their fees. Many times when a patient has to pay, the bill does not get paid – not b/c they simply refuse but b/c the just can’t afford it. These bills just don’t disappear someone has to pay for the nurses, the medicine, the food, the houskeeping, the medical coder, etc. that took care of you during your treatment. Unfortunately, the cost is transferred over to those who can pay. So we can pretend that we’re not paying for other people’s health care or we can face reality and deal with the situation. Either way, we are paying.

  23. Scott:Having access to the system is not the same as not paying for it. If i can get health insurance for 800/month through my work, why not have an option that I can buy, with about the same coverage, for 800/month if i dont have a job? The people buying the health insurance are the ones paying for it. I think that health insurance through an employer should be taxed the same as any other income received from an employer, but that isn’t necessarily to pay for other peoples insurance – its more that it is inherently unfair to have two people who make the same amount salary wise, but one has no benefits and the other has great benefits, pay the same amount in taxes. If they are receiving unequal amounts, they shouldn’t be paying equal taxes.

  24. Scott, hospitals were being required to render emergency services long before that ’80s act, based upon common law. I’m actually on the same page as you for different reasons. Adeshola Blue, you mentioned before about your illness before and I honestly give you my sympathies. If you’re indeed very sick, you qualify for Social Security and Medicare, so you don’t have to sweat the medical bills. If you haven’t already, I would recommend that you call today. In fact, anyone with a serious illness like myself is covered by the federal government. And people who need emergency treatment should stop writing this blog right now and go the hospital immediately. Okay, so we’ve got those people some medical help. What about the rest?To me, some far, we haven’t had anyone smart enough yet, including Obama, who has figured out how to cover all the other uninsured people without wrecking our economy and sinking the whole boat. Brandi, when you figured out how to do this, please offer your plan to Congress. They need it desperately.

  25. Oh Scott….Healthcare is a right because we’re all God’s children and it honestly would make our country better than it already is. Is that a good enough answer for you?Some folks really need to get their ego’s out of the way and stop playing that "I got mine…not get yours game." Regardless as to what you think about healthcare we all pay for the uninsured in the end. Is President Obama so bad for doing his damdest to evolutionize a broken healthcare system?

  26. is it selfish or is it calling for personal responsibility? people should be taking care of their OWN responsibilities instead of others. people won’t do better for themselves if there’s always someone to catch them when they fall.

  27. Let’s be honest, when someone says something like health care is a right, what they really mean is that someone else should pay for it. I don’t have a moral obligation to pay for other peoples health care. Also, I’m still waiting to hear why health care should be a right. As for other nations that have universal coverage, they also have very high tax rates.This assumes that no one who pays taxes will ever get any of the health care, and that everyone who gets the health care will be a freeloading tax cheat. Why? This is the bit I don’t get.I recently did a point-by-point comparison with a Canadian on all the deductions that were taken from my paycheck. My pre-itemized taxes, when including state, fed, and city (not including my private insurance deductions), was something like a percent and a half higher. I am already paying for other people’s health care (private not public, but this is still me paying for someone else as long as I am not sick, and I’m not often sick — the Canadian is not paying these extra costs, nor is your average Belgian or Frenchman having retirement deductions taken out), and police, and roads, and national defense, and schooling, and what all else.If the argument is "The government is not as efficient as private companies at allocating the health care" then let’s have that argument. That is a valid point, and can be addressed — we can either make the government or the private companies more efficient (since HMO’s are not known for their red-tape-free fabulousness by any means. But let’s please quit pretending that we are now in a situation where every seven-year-old with leukemia is actually shelling out for millions of bucks worth of years-long care, that their families are paying for that out of pocket. There has to be some sort of happy medium where it is acknowledged that when you live in a society there are certain aspects of it where it is worth it to put in for the good of the people who are living with you.I find it embarrassing when we go on about being the greatest place on earth and clamoring about how everybody worldwide is dying to emigrate here (not quite so true as all that), and yet we show up with the highest rates of, say, infant mortality in the First World. Perhaps if we were less vocal about being so awesome, the glaring discrepancy would be, well, less glaring.If we’re going to be individualists, we should just go full on libertarian, discontinue Medicare, have hired mercenaries instead of police and an army, harp on our own individual achievements and just be honest about our "every man for himself" credo, and not stick flags up in our SUVs and pretend to have some mythical national identity.

  28. Speaking as a public health professional I do not believe health care is or should be a right. All people should have the RIGHT to ACCESS to health care, but not a right to health care. Health care is a service and like all services there is a cost. Not only that, health care is a scarce resource and for those who can’t pay it’s even more scarce. If any population should have a right to health care it should be children because children weren’t asked to be here and because they are dependent on caregivers.

  29. I agree, Reynalinares. Let the old people like me drink cyanide and decrease the surface population, and let the little innocent babies have free healthcare. They ain’t did nothin’. Hee, hee

  30. Perhaps I’m just a little slow today, but why have a "right to access to health care" but not a right to health care? If you have the right to access it you should be able to get it when you need it. As citizen’s you should have the right to health care as you should have the right to education, free speech, legal representation etc. Without health you don’t have much that is why it should be a fundamental right of all. Suggesting that it should not be a right due to the financial cost and your own selfish ideals, is in my opinion, shameful. If military personnel can access and have a right to state funded health care then why shouldn’t all other citizens? Why is it OK to fund a military, NASA programmes, and education but not health care, something you can’t always control and has the biggest effects?

  31. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, health is a RIGHT (I agree): 25. * (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. * (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

  32. I don’t see it as a "I got mine, now get yours" proposition. I see it as "the leaky lifeboat is sinking and it’s foolhardy to think you can take on more passengers." I’ll repeat my theme. The country is under the threat of going bankrupt. This isn’t fantasyland, it’s factual. This possibility will be worse than some people not having healthcare coverage. China is buying our debt, but it won’t continue to do so forever. We’re living on federal credit. We have to change course now before we’re all doomed. The question is, do we want to save many or lose everybody in the process? Even Jesus Christ knew everybody wasn’t going to get food and shelter. He told his disciples, "The poor you shall have with you always." He didn’t say forget about them. He just realized that everyone wasn’t going to be helped, and the disciples used the oil on him. Some people think that was a selfish act. Years later I understood his meaning.

  33. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t necessarily mean free medical care to all. It’s rather vague and having access to emergency medical care can very well fall within its perimeters. That fact this document was adopted 60 years ago and nobody’s challenged it speaks volumes.

  34. Well David, if the lifeboat really is sinking shouldn’t all the old, soon-to-be-dead weight be thrown out?

  35. Absolutely not, LaJane. The younger generation will need the old fogies to guide them. Hee, hee. Plus, we need very little food and consumer goods.

  36. Maggie:Since when did the US become bound by UN nonsense? Also, I don’t see the UN kicking in to help the US pay for health care, especially considering US taxpayers have to support the UN as it is.Sierra:Are there any other things you’d like to declare to be rights? Just so you know, those in the military get gov’t health care b/c they sign a contract with the gov’t to serve. Mac:Yes you are paying for others health care as part of a private health care company but the company you get your health care has some limits on who it will cover and what it will pay for. Yes, the US may have a higher infant mortality than other first world nations but we are also much bigger. Canada has only about 33mil but the US has about 304mil. Even France only has about 61 mil, not to mention those countries are not as diverse as the US.

  37. @scottDiversity? Say what you mean.And infant mortality rate takes size into account, being the number of deaths in the first year per 1,000 live births. Around ten times as many infants have to die in the /US to have a roughly equal mortality rate with the US.

  38. Frankly, even if you’re paying for your own insurance, someone is paying for YOUR healthcare and always will be if anything major happens to you. Your puny deductions are not going to cover the cost of your prostate operations or to put you back together after a car accident even if you’re upper middle class — otherwise you wouldn’t NEED insurance, you’d be taking your deductions and putting them in a private account and saving up on your own. So… money where your mouth is? Neither a borrower or a lender be: Opt right out of your HMO or your PPO or POS scheme or what have you and start up that account, and embrace that independence!

  39. @asm — Agreed. All too often "diversity" in this scenario is just used to euphemistically imply that if it weren’t for those unhealthy black folk, we’d have the same stats as those other countries. (Countries which do sometimes have actual black folk of their own. That they manage to keep healthy)As one of those black folk, I hope it becomes evident why that argument means not a jot to me.

  40. Sorry, but I don’t understand why the question’s even being asked. Why should basic healthcare be out of anyone’s grasp? This is the richest country in the world! Why is a segment of the population content that they can afford healthcare while others cannot? For my friend who’s young, smart, a cancer survivor and recently laid off, not having insurance because of a pre-existing condition is a nightmare. How is that tolerable? "There but by the grace of God go I." Sickness can affect anyone at any time, regardless of diet, habits, etc. Why should the monied be the only ones to enjoy some sense of security? We ask for God to Bless America, right? Then why not try to create a system that will take care of everyone? I’m from the UK, and just don’t understand the struggle in this debate. I know U.S. citizens who have worked hard all their lives and are struggling to keep up with their prescriptions, etc. So many have worked hard all their lives…decent, accessible healthcare should not be too much to ask. Plus health insurance premiums continue to increase. We pay for the uninsured’s Emergency Ward visits now. Healthcare reform can’t wait too long.

  41. (The "smaller country" argument doesn’t work either, since the comparison is being made PER CAPITA. Fewer people to provide for, sure, and yay, but also fewer people paying in. Basic statistics.)

  42. Health care is a right and so is food, clothing, and shelter. There are programs to make these available to the very poor among us. Long term programs that do more to invest in the people receiving the benefit (through comprehensive support–education, connection to resources, emotional suport, etc.) do a better job of empowering people to get to a place where they can purchase these services/ goods themselves. It is not only the very poor who cannot afford healthcare. It is also the poor, and those poor souls with different kinds of circumstances (pre-existing condition, bad genes, etc.) who cannot afford healthcare. We need an alternative to the private insurers. Right now, we go to the insurance co to see what they’ll pay, if anything. Those who are worried about reform fear a government guy in the middle; the government IS US (we elect them) and they seek to protect us in ways that private companies right now have no incentive to protect us. Healthcare is a right that we do not all have the opportunity, now, to enjoy. Not only is it cost effective to invest in long term solutions, it’s the moral choice.

  43. Truly, "There but the grace of God go I." There are so times I’ve been without health insurance, so I feel the pain of the uninsured. In fact, a couple of years ago I was between jobs, and then I landed one with nice medical benefits. Thank the universe because 10 months later, I was admitted into the hospital and diagnosed with MS. I had to declare bankruptcy this year and many of those bills were due to my illness. Still, I rather file bankruptcy than have the entire federal government do it, which is my fear if we keep assuming more debt.Yes, I know emergency room visits drive up healthcare costs, but until someone devises a concerte plan of paying for healthcare, I don’t see any alternative right now. Truthfully, it’s still less costly than universal healthcare (no stats, puleeze). Frankly, I’m turning against healthcare because I see this nation isn’t ready for it. It’s splitting up the country and generating so much anger and it may never heal.If I were healthy, I think I would tell people to take universal healthcare and shove it. I hate the idea of begging for something personally. I wish Democrats would take some pride and leave the issue alone. Forget freaking affirmative action and all that crap. I’ll rather work digging ditches and eating cheese and crackers than beg.

  44. So far, the only major step in healthcare reform we can easily do is eliminate the pre-existing condition clause. That would help many people get coverage and wouldn’t cost the federal government a penny.

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