Editorial: Health care is not a right, but it is a societal good

Published on Monday, 15 May 2017 15:37 - Written by

Miss USA has angered many on the left with a couple of bold statements she made just before being crowned Saturday night. Health care, she says, isn’t a right. She’s correct, of course, but that hasn’t stopped the outrage.

“Some of the major policy and social debates that have marked the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency took center stage when the newly crowned Miss USA argued that health care is ‘a privilege’ for working people and that she rejected ‘die-hard’ views of feminism,” CNN reports. “Kara McCullough, a physical scientist at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was asked Sunday during the Las Vegas pageant’s question-and-answer section if ‘affordable health care for all US citizens is a right or a privilege.’”

Her answer was somewhat incoherent - but then, she had every right to be nervous.

“I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege,” she said. “As a government employee, I am granted health care and I see first-hand that for one to have health care, you have to have jobs.”

Now, she was wrong to link health care to jobs. Job-based health insurance is a very recent development in the history of health care, something that came along in the mid-century. And it’s not a model that is going to work very well in the future, as the so-called “gig economy” for young people grows (at one end of the demographic spectrum) and as America continues to gray (at the other end).

But she’s correct that health care isn’t a right. Why? Because health care is largely a service, rendered by another person, who also has rights.

In our foundational documents, rights are things derived from God, not by legislative decree. In other words, rights aren’t granted by government, they’re only recognized by government.

And in the Bill of Rights, they’re expressed as things that government may not abridge: speech, for example, or worshipping as seems best to us, or reporting the news, or defending our homes and our families.

Rights, in the Constitution, are things government may not prevent us from doing. Nowhere in that document are rights presented as things the government must do for us.

That’s an important distinction, because that’s how health care is being presented.

Now, health care is mostly a service. Sure, there are medicines and medical devices and facilities involved, but health care is mostly doctors, nurses and other health care professionals performing their specialized services.

Does anything in the Constitution give me a right to someone else’s labor?

Think about that. Declaring health care a right means every American has a claim on the labor of every doctor and nurse and physical therapist and radiologist.

We can’t force others to work for us. It’s that simple.

There’s an argument to be made that some minimum level of health care, available to all, is a societal good, and a commendable goal. You can look at access to care as part of the social contract. We can have that discussion.

But Miss USA is correct. Health care is not a right.