“Healthcare is a right, not a business.”
This is a statement I have heard or read repeatedly during the entire debate over Obamacare during the last couple of years. It was the underlying assumption behind the administration’s arguments during the recent Supreme Court case. In talking about the individual mandate, the Solicitor General basic argument was: we have to get healthy people to pony up the money to pay for the sick people. Those sick people are going to need healthcare, and somebody’s got to pay for it.
I think that to argue that healthcare is a right is profoundly incorrect. In my view, healthcare is a resource. Like all resources, it is scarcer than the demand, and must be allocated in some fashion. Advocates of the private sector will argue that price is the appropriate mechanism to allocate healthcare. If you can’t afford the care you need, that’s just too bad. Advocates of a single payer system, such as Britain’s, ration care by use of waiting lists, or by refusal to provide certain procedures or pharmaceuticals. If you die before you can get treatment, that’s just too bad.
There has been a profound shift in the notion of what constitutes a “right” in the last couple of decades. Traditionally, having a right was intended as a limit on government. Freedom of speech means you cannot be arrested for calling for the overthrow of the government. Separation of church and state prohibits the government from using your tax dollars to prop up a religion that you don’t agree with. Rights are concerned with what the government can’t do.
The new version of rights, particularly in the economic sphere, posits responsibilities that government must do. For example, some have proposed a right to housing. And not just housing, but decent housing, whatever that means. This right absolves the individual of responsibility for providing their own housing. If we sign on to this new right, then it is the government’s problem to provide me with lodging. After all, I have a right to it.
The newer view of rights, instead of limiting government power, entails an expansion of government activity and control.
I come down on the other side of the question. In my view, the individual has no more a right to healthcare, than they have a right to health itself.