The presidential champion of the progressive movement in America at the turn of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt, had rhetoricized about health care. The original debate to drive home a political point in an America that was very divided among the very wealthy and the rest in an era of tycoons from Vanderbilt to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, who were building industrial America was that health care was a right and not a privilege. And it appears that that byline uttered by the most famous last president to grace Rushmore is driving President Obama’s agenda on health care reform.
If the Bill of Rights were enacted into law along with the Constitution, why was not health care? The doctors could argue the Democrats to argue that medicine was not as developed then. Even George Washington was bled before he died in because of pneumonia in 1799. But given the level of medical knowledge at every point in medical history since Hippocrates, administering medicine to cure, as all physicians aver before they graduate with their medical degrees, cannot be denied if the patient cannot pay because health care is a duty of the supplier and a necessity of the consumer, not a right of either and the privilege of none.
The rising cost of health care in the United States is because of the Hippocratic oath that governs the practice of medicine. Doctors who need to get paid for their services still provide those services to those who cannot pay themselves, only to be paid by someone else by redistribution through the rising insurance premia, whether that be the safety net of Medicare and Medicaid through taxes and national debt or privately provided health care.
In the modern economic analysis of pure public goods, even if health care is made a legal right, it would first be redundant given the obligations involved in medical education and second, horses even if given the legal rights, can be taken to the pond to drink, but may not choose to do so. The existence of rights does not automatically imply their use and in the case of health care, the mitigation of its use if diseases can be prevented through better behaviors or preventive medical interventions. And therefore, the case for the government provisioning health care on the grounds that it is a right is even flimsier. Health care is a pure public good only in the event of a contagion, which, in and of itself, in the emerging world of genetic treatments and drugs, can be eminently preventable.
From the consumer perspective, because health care is a necessity for every man, woman and child from conception to death ― a very highly inelastic demand curve ― similar to clean air, clean water and nutritious food, the role of health care policy becomes one of ensuring equal access to all people, citizens and non-citizens on U.S soil, to health care that meets certain minimal quality standards at an affordable price. Similar to food stamps, those who fall below a certain percentage of the poverty line must be provided direct government assistance through the social safety net. The goal of health care reform must be health stamps.
The only privilege granted to the human condition is to work. And the United States must work to rebuild itself and in the process fix health care.