Health-Care: Commodity or Right?

Health-Care: Commodity or Right?


I’ve just come back from Europe, where citizens in most countries (on the left, right and center) would revolt if their leaders dared to privatize their health-care systems. That’s because they’ve grown accustomed to getting shoddy care rationed out by bureaucrats, opponents of health-care reform in the United States insist. In fact, it’s because citizens in countries such as France, Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom – all of which boast lower infant-mortality and higher life-expectancy rates than the United States – don’t think of health-care as a commodity. They think of it as a public good and a basic right.

Might Americans come to think of it this way? Not a chance, skeptics watching the fury unleashed at town hall meetings in recent weeks might contend. Americans think owning guns, not having access to medical care, is a basic right. But this conclusion isn’t warranted. President Obama actually said it plainly enough during the presidential campaign, telling Tom Brokaw in an exchange on health-care with John McCain, "I think it should be a right, for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills… there’s something fundamentally wrong about that."

Fundamentally wrong. A right for every American. If Obama intends to pass meaningful health-care reform, he needs to remember these words and begin reminding Americans that reforming health-care isn’t important simply because it will cut waste and improve the quality of care, points he emphasizes in an op-ed in today’s Times. It’s important because denying medical care to citizens who can’t afford it in one of the world’s wealthiest countries is unfair and unconscionable: because health-care is not simply a commodity but a right.

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