Life, Liberty, Health Care

by Billy Zou '12 | 10/4/09 10:00pm

For those who have been living outside the U.S. or in a cave, two health care reform bills have been proposed to universalize the American health care system. One, H.R. 3200, proposes a public health insurance plan or "public option," while the other, H.R. 676, would create a single-payer system that would cover all medically essential care.

The Senate rejected the public option plan last Tuesday, and the forecast is gloomy for proposals of bolder changes.

There's been a lot of "debate" surrounding the reform. With all the news stories of inflammatory protests at town halls, I suspect that there's something more than Godwin's Law at work in political forums across the country.

It's obvious that private insurance companies do not want a single-payer system that would marginalize their role to providing supplemental care, or a public option that would provide competition and potentially drive down premiums.

What I am interested in, however, is not the kaleidoscopic advantages that a universal public health insurance system would provide: reduced administrative costs, more patients seeking preventative measures which save costs in the long run and pharmaceutical research focused on developing drugs that reap the most social benefits rather than the largest profit, for example.

According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, one reason single-payer Canada spent $3,895 per capita on health care in 2007 while the U.S. spent $7,290 with arguably inferior outcomes and 16 percent of the population uninsured is Canada's reduced administrative costs.

I am interested, on the other hand, in how seriously Americans take their Declaration of Independence, which states that they have certain inalienable rights, and that among them are "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

If this is the case, isn't government justified in nay, obligated to protect these rights?

The question then becomes whether health care is really a human right. There are those who argue that it is not, claiming that one only has the right to seek health care, not demand that others provide it. To them I say, is it not an American right to demand protection from foreign armies? Is it not a right to demand that our water be potable, our food edible and our media credible? (OK, not the last one.)

Food need not be a public good because it is inexpensive and easily obtained. This is not the case with some the most essential medical care, which may be very expensive and unaffordable to a large slice of the population.

To have a serious illness go untreated is to be deprived of the hope of pursuing happiness, if not at some point life (according to the American Journal of Public Health, 44,800 die in the U.S. each year simply from lack of coverage).

Indeed, according to an article on the science new web site, Science Daily, a global study on Satisfaction with Life conducted at the University of Leicester found that happiness correlated with health more strongly than any other measure.

The pragmatist in me realizes that a single-payer system isn't happening in America any time soon.

Nevertheless, if the access to necessary health care is an inalienable right, then it is something that should not be handed out by private insurance companies that would prefer to turn away patients in order to maximize profit.

Instead, providing health care should be the responsibility of the government. The sole purpose of its existence is to protect the rights of those who have to live in this country.