Should healthcare be government-provided? Is it a human right?

Here are a few of the arguments for why healthcare should be considered a human right, and therefore guaranteed by the government, followed by my counter-arguments.

Insurance companies are profiting from people’s misery: First of all, let’s be clear on what insurance companies are for. They are a way for people to pool their money and spread out risk, so that nobody has to bear the full cost of a major illness or accident. In the process, insurance companies make money for shareholders, which are also often the policy-holders themselves.

Insurance companies can serve the people they insure, and their shareholders, only if they manage their risk. So that means people they know will cost more than they pay into the system are eliminated from the pool. This means people with pre-existing conditions often can’t get insurance, but this doesn’t have to be considered a travesty of justice; covering everybody isn’t what insurance companies are designed to do.

For those who fall through the cracks, we should absolutely have charitable programs (yes, some even government-run) that make sure we don’t leave any of our fellow citizens without care. Insurance doesn’t have to be the answer for them.

When legislatures decide that insurance companies are evil just for doing what their policy-holders and shareholders expect them to do, then you have absurd regulations like “guaranteed issue,” and “community rating.” These completely wreck the entire premise behind insurance companies by forcing them to accept everyone, regardless of their risk profile, and not allowing the companies to charge rates that reflect this risk.

This would be like forcing home insurers to issue policies to people whose houses are on fire, and requiring that the policy not be overly expensive. The rest of us have to pay higher premiums to cover that, and then the legislature bemoans the fact that insurance costs are going up.

Healthcare shouldn’t be a for-profit commodity: Why not? Some of the best things in the world today are available because somebody is making money on them. And when somebody’s making money on them, they attract legions of others with good ideas who also want to make money, and they compete to come up with the best ideas that serve our needs.

Let’s look at it this way: Healthcare is a fundamental human need, but is it any more fundamental than food? Or clothing? Or shelter? I would think not, especially in the case of those who find themselves without food, shelter or clothing. But all of those basic needs are provided by for-profit businesses, and as a result, they get cheaper and better over time.

And for those who can’t afford those things, we have government and charitable programs that provide them, because we are a compassionate society. So again I ask, why shouldn’t healthcare be for-profit?

Healthcare is a human right: This is an intellectually lazy way of short-circuiting discussion and debate: by defining healthcare as a human right, then anyone who argues against it can be called inhumane, cruel, and despotic, rather than addressing their arguments. If it’s a human right, then there’s no sense in even discussing the matter with somebody who thinks you should have to charge for it, because that would deprive others of a “right.”

If it’s a human right to have access to a product or service that others must pay for, then we have to answer thorny questions that proponents of this position might like to side-step: How much healthcare meets the standard? And of what quality should it be? For example, if somebody from Vermont wants to go to the Cleveland Clinic for their heart surgery because it has the best track record, who gets to decide whether that’s okay or not? If a government bureaucracy decides that this person has to go to a Vermont hospital with a less stellar record, is that an infringement on their human rights?

If a government bureaucracy decides that certain procedures my doctor and I agree on are not “appropriate,” then have they diminished my human rights? If doctors refuse to work for the wages paid by the state-run systems, preferring to remain independent, are they guilty of human rights violations? Would doctors even be allowed to be independent?


About Jamal Kheiry

Public relations consultant with experience in domestic and international journalism and public relations. At it since 1995.
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