Is healthcare a privilege or a right?


Fact Box

  • The WHO defines universal health coverage as “all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. It includes the full spectrum of essential, quality health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care across the life course.”
  • A 2020 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 63% of adult Americans say “the government has the responsibility to provide health care coverage for all.”
  • The first federal healthcare law in the US was signed by President John Adams in 1798 and called for “Collectors of Customs to assess for every arriving seaman 20 cents a month for the care of sick seamen and the building of hospitals.”
  • The Brookings Institution reports that in 2017 half of all healthcare spending in the US accounted for only 5% of the population.

Maha (Privilege)

Had healthcare been a right for every citizen in America, it would have been outlined in the Constitution of the United States--or the 33 amendments that followed. And, as a recent Congressional Research report related, 'the Supreme Court has never interpreted the Constitution as guaranteeing a right to health care services from the government for those who cannot afford it.' Healthcare is indeed a privilege. 

Even the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, established a distinction that proves healthcare is a privilege. For instance, children under 26 could remain on their parents' health insurance. Had healthcare been a right, this initiative would have benefited the population as a whole. 

Care entails spending time, money, and resources for someone's benefit. As healthcare isn't a right, members of society aren't obligated to ensure others' care. They do, however, have a duty not to get in the way of others attaining it--as put forth in the so-called 'negative-rights framework.'  

Additionally, healthcare isn't a fundamental right even during a pandemic--something most apparent during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis. Low-income citizens faced limited access to health services and were the most affected by the virus.

That said, just because healthcare is a privilege doesn't mean patients won't get emergency medical treatment if they require it. As per the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA), hospitals that have emergency departments and accept Medicare payments have to provide emergency services to patients regardless of their ability to pay. 

Even with the prevalence of privilege-based healthcare, the right to be treated during a medical emergency still exists. However, in other cases, it is up to the individual--not the government--to find care. 

Jessica (Right)

Healthcare is a basic human right and should be accessible to all people, everywhere. It is a fact that everyone will get sick or injured at some point in their lifetime and require a healthcare professional's care to stay alive. Still, 43 countries--out of the nearly 200 countries worldwide--demand that people pay to be cared for when they need it. And in so doing, a massive profit can be generated for the billion/trillion dollar health insurance industry, especially in America.

The United States remains the only developed nation in the world without some sort of free universal healthcare for its citizens. This has led to a state in America, specifically, where wealthy people are afforded much better healthcare than people living under the poverty line, primarily children and people of color

Because a large percentage of the poor in the United States are Black, this health insurance inequity reinforces notions of the 'War on the Poor' and systemic racism. Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic has led to even more disparity, with the poverty rates for Black Americans increasing by over five percentage points at the end of 2020. Further, Black women are up to six times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth in the United States than White women. And regardless of race, people are dying in America because they cannot afford insulin for their diabetes.

The vast majority of the world already agrees that a human being should not have had to be born wealthy in order to stay alive. Unfortunately, here in America, that right is not afforded.

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