Health Care Right

For some Americans, there is a question fundamental to the debate on health care insurance reform: is health care insurance a right or a privilege? Taking apart the question, the central debate is whether health care itself is a right or privilege.

In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), requiring hospitals to treat those in need of emergency care. The law, and subsequent amendments, established some universal access for urgent health care. What the law left out was any provision for paying for the care received and about half of emergency room care goes unpaid. The debate over reform involves two issues.

The first is does a person have a right to health care? Legislation and both state and federal court cases ensure that prisoners have a right to adequate medical care. In 2002, a heart transplant for a California inmate prompted a contentious debate over the meaning of “adequate.” If you are a taxpayer who pays to maintain the prisoner, however, you may or may not have a right to health care. It depends on your condition, which has to be assessed by a doctor using a number of guidelines, both local and federal, to determine if you have an EMC, or Emergency Medical Condition. If you do have an EMC, you have a right to health care. That doesn’t mean you have a right to free health care. You’ll have to figure that one out on your own or with the help of a counselor at the hospital.

Among Americans who are not lawyers, the debate often turns on this constitutional and philosophical debate: does a person have a right to health care? Some say that the Declaration of Independence clause citing a right to life and the 5th Amendment protection of life gives one a right to health care. Some argue that these constitutional provisions include only life or death care. People see it one way or another and there is a tall fence between the two camps.

The second debate is partially founded on the first. If someone has a right to health care, does that imply that the government then has an obligation to provide that care at no cost? Some argue yes, some argue no and there is a big wall between these opposing groups.

As a comparison, let’s review a few other rights. The citizens of this country have a right to the protection of life and liberty. Government, then, has an obligation to provide for armies, police and courts to sustain that right of its citizens. Likewise, if health care is a right, shouldn’t that also be provided by government? Some who argue that health care is a right, could also argue that there is a differentiation of rights. Defense is provided to all citizens whether they pay taxes or not. The 2nd amendment gives one the right to own a gun but the government has no obligation to buy any citizen a gun. If health care is a right, is it a right similar to that of owning a gun?

Some argue that there is no right to health care, be it life or death. For those people, the case is closed on both the health care and health care insurance debate. I heard one older man say that when he was growing up, if you didn’t have money for a doctor, you died and that was how it was and everyone got along the way it was.

For some pragmatic Americans, the debate over rights to health care is stupid. There are two camps here as well, some arguing that unhealthy people spread disease and inevitably are a burden to those around them so we, as a community, have to find a way to provide health care to everyone. Some object that simply paying the additional taxes required to provide that health care will make us all more unhealthy, thereby exacerbating the condition we hoped to cure.

In this debate, which camp are you in?

For a look at some of the gripes about the existing health care insurance situation, read a few
real life stories

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