In the first post in this series I criticized the notion that single-payer health care protects people with pre-existing conditions. That a prominent Republican like Ben Stein espoused single-payer was dismaying.
During Mr. Stein’s appearance on Neil Cavuto’s show, he said: “It is a basic American right to have decent health care. That is a basic right. We live in a very rich country…and the idea that any parent who sees his child born with a serious defect will think, ‘My God, I might not be able to afford to keep my child alive’ is abhorrent to everything it means to be an American.”
If he means the Congress-Shall-Make-No-Law kind of right, then I’m with him. Obviously, though, he means that individuals have a right to health care. But declaring that people have a right to health care and then using the government to enforce it creates some very undesirable results.
First, it becomes more difficult for those with the most need to get adequate health care. Once the government establishes a right to health care, it will have to fund that right. And once government is involved, getting adequate health care will depend on how much political power you have.
As I noted in the previous post, single-payer systems like Canada’s and Britain’s resort to waiting lists for surgery and cancer treatment to ration care because it benefits the politicians who exercise control over the health care system. Because the people on those lists are sick and, hence, in no condition to be engaging in political activity, they represent no threat to politicians.
There is a similar phenomenon here in the U.S. with the Veterans Health Administration.
Despite the ludicrous claims by some that it provided the best health care anywhere, the VHA has long been plagued by waiting lists, often with tragic results. Veterans, especially those who are seriously ill, have very little political power because veterans groups tend to focus their efforts on other areas of veterans policy. After the last rash of VHA scandals hit the media, members of Congress were hailed as heroes for putting together a “solution.” And now that politicians have moved onto other matters?
Congress and the VA came up with a fix: Veterans Choice, a $10 billion program that was supposed to give veterans a card that would let them see a non-VA doctor if they were more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or they were going to have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA provider to see them.
There was a problem, though. Congress gave the VA only 90 days to set up the system. Facing that extremely tight time frame, the VA turned to two private companies to administer the program and help veterans get an appointment with a doctor and then work with the VA to pay that doctor.
Although the idea sounds simple enough, the fix hasn’t worked out as planned. Wait times have gotten worse — not better. Compared with this time last year, there are 70,000 more appointments that took vets at least a month to be seen.
Another immoral outcome of enforcing the right of one person to health care is that the rights of another person are violated in the process.
Specifically, an individual’s property rights are being violated, whether that property is the income of the taxpayer or the labor of physicians, nurses, and other health care providers.
An individual’s freedom is more important than other individuals’ needs. As David Kelly of the Atlas Society stated:
The rights of liberty are paramount because individuals are ends in themselves. We are not instruments of society, or possessions of society. And if we are ends in ourselves, we have the right to be ends for ourselves: to hold our own lives and happiness as our highest values, not to be sacrificed for anything else.
I suspect that many leftists would retort, So if health care shouldn’t be a right, you’re saying it’s a privilege? No, it’s neither. Health care is a good and a service, and our need for health care can only be met by producing it. It cannot be met by declaring health care a right. Indeed, systems that try to enforce health care as a right often turn it into a privilege.
In Canada and Britain, consistently good health care is the province of the politically connected or the wealthy. A few years ago then-Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams made news by coming to the United States for heart surgery so he could avoid being put on a waiting list. People with private insurance in Great Britain usually get quality care. But the risk pools are primarily composed of older people, which makes the insurance too expensive for all but the affluent to purchase. Most other people in those nations are stuck with the substandard care of the government-run systems.
When the government tries to enforce a right to health care, those most in need find it hard to obtain health care, individual rights are violated, and quality health care becomes a privilege.
“Health is a basic American right,” makes for nice rhetoric but lousy policy.