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