Health care: A Right or a Privilege?

Michael Sweet, Guest Columnist

In 2008, Ohio resident Trina Batchel began to have complications during her pregnancy. Fearing that something was wrong, she sought help at her local clinic. However, because of an outstanding balance from a previous visit, Batchel was refused care unless she paid $100 for her visit, according to the New York Times in April 2008. She was forced to travel 30 miles to a different hospital. By the time she got there, the condition of her unborn baby was irreversible. The baby was lost. 

Terrible cases, much like Batchel’s, occur all too often in America. The prevalence of such occurrences forces most to question the current state of health care in our country. Advocates for universal health care cite stories like Trina’s as examples of why every person should have access to medical services, regardless of economic condition. However, is such a system one that would be successful in the United States? The harsh but simple answer is no. Health care is not a right. It is a privilege.

At the inception of our beautiful country, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all people are entitled to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The first two terms in this phrase are very straightforward: everyone has a right to life; everyone has a right to liberty. However, the “pursuit of happiness” is not as simple. 

Are we entitled to happiness? To be blunt: no, we are not. This key point is one that illuminates the difference in the predominant philosophies of the Left and the Right. Whereas the Right views government as a framework under which its citizens operate, the Left often views government as an entity that has the responsibility to provide endless goods and services for its citizenry. This view of government is not only economically harmful but, more importantly, works in direct opposition to the ideals of the United States. 

In a 1787 letter to James Madison, Jefferson wrote, “I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.” This fear of an oppressive government is the very reason that health care is not, and should not be considered an inalienable right.

To better understand Jefferson’s fear, we must be able to understand the difference between a right and a privilege. There is a general rule of thumb that can help differentiate the two. A right is something that can only be taken away, while a privilege is something that has to be given. For example, everyone has a right to eat a cheeseburger. However, no one has a right to have a cheeseburger made for them. This is because to force someone else to prepare food infringes on that cook’s own rights to personal autonomy and freedom of choice. It works the same way for health care. Although everyone has a right to pursue better health, no one can force someone else to provide that service to them. This forced health care can take many forms. One form is the forced taxation of the general populace to pay for the health needs of a few. Another is policies that force businesses to provide certain health care to their employees, for example, the Affordable Care Act. 

The final method of forced health care is, quite literally, forcing doctors directly or indirectly to provide care, even against their will. Fortunately, no such policies are in effect today, although there have been calls from the far Left to move in that direction.

To say that health care is not a right is not to say that we don’t have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate. Charity is a key component to democracy. One of the beauties of the free market is its ability to birth and harbor organizations such as St. Jude’s Hospital or St. Vincent Charity Hospital. While current charity organizations do not come close to helping every person in need of care, the fact that they exist is an indication that humans do, indeed, have the capacity for selflessness without being pushed by the government.

Furthermore, to say that health care is not a right is not to say that the government shouldn’t be involved. Some form of semi-privatized, semi-nationalized system, if implemented cautiously and methodically, could be very successful in America. Admittedly, I do not know enough about the issue to take any definitive stance, but it is conceivable that a system combining the pioneering nature of the private world with the universality of a nationalized system could work.

I am not claiming to have the “magical fix” to the current state of health care in America. It is ridiculous that from 2007 to 2016 the cost of an EpiPen increased by 548%, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. A single Tylenol pill in the emergency room should not cost $15. This does not, however, change the core of the argument. The government should not have the power to provide health care services at the expense of its citizens. Forced charity is not charity. It is oppression.