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Why health care should be a fundamental right, not a luxury.

August 7, 2010

The US government, I’ve heard it telled, is founded at least in part on the principle that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ought to be guaranteed its citizens.

Among many of those who decry any semblance of a comprehensive, socialized single-payer health care system, there seems to be, apart from a fear of the federal government’s incapability to efficiently administrate pretty much anything (there is more than a smidgeon of truth to this as things stand, I’ll grant), a characterization of socialized medicine as an unfair redistribution of wealth. Why should *my* taxes go to pay for *that guy’s* appendectomy? or what-have-you. Just more taxing and spending. And so on.

The “moral majority” in the US has been historically built largely upon good old-fashioned Scots-Irish values of self-reliance. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though it has its dark side. A little more of that kind of thinking would do many of us some good, myself included. So the conventional wisdom among many goes something like this: honest, hard-working folks ought to be able to buy their own damned insurance. If you need a “handout,” you need to get off your butt and get a job. Et cetera, et cetera.

Health care is a human rightThe problem is that this admirable ethos does not provide a rational basis for excluding, in the world’s wealthiest and most powerful state, health care from the core of fundamental citizens’ rights. Now, the existence of such rights is widely recognized among even the most enthusiastic government bashers. You don’t often hear people ask why their tax dollars should go to help pay for roads or schools or fire departments, for instance, as has been often noted in the dialogue on health care.

One might ask: if we’re going to socialize health care, why don’t we also completely socialize food and housing? The socialization of medicine is viewed in many quarters as a giant slide down a slippery slope to cataclysmic government control of the universe right down to subatomic particles, as a landmark along the cheery way to a welfare state.

Well, t’aint necessarily so, you see. Because, if you’re in reasonably good health, you can go to school, you can go to work, you can do what it takes to be a productive little solider. You can earn money and go buy yourself some food and a place to live, and maybe even a litter box for your cat.

You can’t do those things nearly so well if you have a systemic infection, or can’t afford chemotherapy. No pursuit of happiness for you. And even in perfect robustness of constitution, you can’t go to the doctor’s office with your paycheck and buy some health for the hard weeks ahead.

Health care is somewhat unique among fundamental rights in this sense. It is a basic prerequisite to functioning as a human being and a component of civilization. Most of the rest of the world has realized this. If we provide free and compulsory education to young people, and if we provide highways to zip down and police to tell us not to zip quite that fast, then where is the rational basis for taxpayer resentment of investing in universal health care, of all things?

We can come up with plenty of scary scenarios and troubling anecdotes to count against the institution of socialized medicine in the United States. As it happens, we can also consult some compelling success stories. Britons may get chapped by irresponsible spending in the NHS, but they sure do keep a’comin’ back.You might have heard that Canadians sometimes cross the border to receive cutting-edge treatment for chronic illness, but you might not have heard that even many perfectly healthy Canadians make sure their nationalized plans will be in effect during any travels in the US. French hospital-goers seem at least reasonably content with a national health care system that actually covers more costs as the elderly or gravely ill go downhill. Imagine that.

We have a great many obstacles to overcome. It is salient to ask how the federal government could manage even basic universal care when the systems already in place are so inefficient and corrupt. Do you smell anything funny? I smell lobbyists.

Certainly we can point out that funding even a rudimentary form of public health care would be easier if we weren’t spending hundreds of billions of dollars each year on the world’s most luxuriantly corpulent military contracting apparatus.

But if someone has a good argument as to why health care should not be considered a fundamental right essential to the pursuit of a decent quality of life, I’ve yet to hear it.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2010 10:07 am

    If you paid for socialized healthcare it would come in the form of more taxes, it would be done on the federal level, and it would suck-Just like contacting the Social Security Administration to get information. In local/state taxes I am paying for roads in my state, fire protection in my state and if you brought government run healthcare into my state (at the state level) I would be paying for healthcare in the same manner. I am strongly opposed to “displaced migrant peoples” using said healthcare to their advantage. If a state forbids treatment to such people and will only provide it to people of that state with a valid ID or something of that nature then I might look at it differently. Each state would be responsible for their own inhabitants. Why should Rhode Island have the same tax increases as Texas when Texas is supporting 60,000 illegal babies a year? Rhode Island doesn’t have that many people TOTAL born per year. If you get injured in another state, you receive care but that state bills your home state.

    With regards to cutting defense spending to our “luxuriantly corpulent military contracting apparatus” these are technologies we need so that we can guard against new forms of attack and to better support the soldier in the field. If you were to mention that we are stretched thin, I would certainly agree with you. I don’t see the need to have bases in Italy, Spain, England, and other places such as that where there has been no true conflict in over 60 years. This is a situation where you would prefer to knock the “luxuriantly corpulent military contracting apparatus” and while you are doing that I’m quite sure that you have no idea what that money is actually being spent on. You see a news report in one place, then another, and hear stories from people you know, but do you really think that adds up to the total defense spending you think you know so much about? It would seem you are in the wrong place to scrutinize the “luxuriantly corpulent military contracting apparatus” considering that this area would almost cease to exist without it. The same company that is contracted to make missiles for the military is the same company that makes fuel for NASA. The same company that develops missiles, bombs, and ammunition for the military is the primary developer for the Ares rocket. Tell me who these “luxuriantly corpulent military contracting apparatus” companies are? Give me proof and not just your word of mouth that you think your (quite possibly) Sociology degree has allowed you to understand.

    • October 10, 2010 1:28 pm

      Sorry to be so long in getting back to you. I’ve been away from the site for a while, mostly working on my degree (which is not in sociology, by the way–but good guess).

      It’s interesting that I seem to be required to prove the obvious and the readily available to anyone whom might inquire about it–that the US has a defense budget that is larger than those of the rest of the world’s nations combined, although we harbor only about 5% of the global population and have not faced any vague semblance of a militaristic invasion on our soil in nearly 200 years–but you do not seem required to furnish the crystal ball which gives you the privileged information that socialized health care would “suck.” That’s all–it would “suck.” It just would.

      Defense spending becomes luxuriant and corpulent (I see you like that phrase–I thought it was a nice touch myself) when military contractors, who are in fact heartless, faceless, inexorably greedy corporate entities not unlike any other–are allowed to charge the taxpayers you seem so concerned about tens to hundreds of billions of dollars a year to develop these “technologies we need” in order to perpetuate and maintain colonial occupations of foreign nations based on the rhetoric of a draft-dodging pseudo cowboy and his staff of energy industry luminaries. That the economy of my city or anyone else’s has come to be dependent on this kind of unfortunate commerce is a fact of life that must be dealt with, and I certainly don’t have all the answers there.

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