Health: A Human Right

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Shirley Chisholm, the first African American Congresswoman, said, “Health is a human right, not a privilege to be purchased.” The founding documents of the United States provide support for a right to health care. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the basic, fundamental and inalienable rights defined by the Declaration of Independence and safeguarded by the U.S. government. This necessarily entails having the health care needed to preserve life and pursue happiness.

According to the statistics presented by Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements (CPS ASEC) and the American Community Survey (ACS) in 2017, 28.5 million Americans did not have health insurance at any point during the year. Among people who did have health insurance, 67.5% had some sort of private insurance and 37.3% were enrolled in some variation of government-provided coverage through programs such as Medicaid or Medicare. 

A team of economists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) found that instituting a right to health care could lower the cost of health care in the United States. PERI considered using a single-payer system in which all citizens are guaranteed a right to health care. Under this system, a public agency would use Medicare and Medicaid funding, in addition to modest new taxes, to fund a complete health care program. PERI claims that total public and private health care spending could be reduced by up to $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years through lowered administrative and prescription drug costs.

With guaranteed health care, people are able to recover their health and return to work rather than growing sicker and missing more work. This allows them to contribute more to the economy. However, under our current system, many people are unable to access the benefits of health care. According to an Institute of Medicine report in 2003, the U.S. economy loses $65-130 billion annually as a result of diminished worker productivity due to poor health and premature deaths among the uninsured. 

However, some still argue that the right to health care is an individual’s responsibility, and it is not the government’s role to secure healthcare. One of the most common arguments is that it risks increasing the national debt. However, according to the 2017 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) statistics, health spending averages $9,892 per person in the United States, almost two-and-a-half times the average of the 35 OECD countries ($4,003). 

With that level of spending, the United States should be able to provide health care to everyone without disrupting the economic stability of the United States. Worker productivity and increased economic stability due to healthcare reforms will allow the United States to flourish without driving it towards a national debt crisis.

We already pay for our health care system — at least twice as much as countries with universal health care — which means no new money is needed. An equitable financing plan would be based on progressive taxation, which means that both businesses and individuals would pay according to their ability. Progressive health care financing would ensure that everyone gets the health care they need and set us on track to an economy that works for all people. 

As a component of a regulated health care system, the government should impose price controls in health care. The government should be involved in controlling the drug price, insurance, and medical industry advertising spending, all of which would bring down costs.

 Some people might feel that the right to health care could cause people to overuse health care resources. One of the measures that can be taken is for insurers to employ physicians to review the actions of other physicians and detect overuse. Another is to make easily interpretable and more medical evidence available to providers at the point of care to reduce variation. It just might be the “details” that providers need to effectively reduce overuse while ensuring high-quality care and rapid successful recoveries.

A right to health care could possibly lower physicians’ earnings. I strongly believe that doctors deserve those earnings for all the hard work that they put in. In practice, if universal health care works, the government will have leverage to negotiate doctors’ salaries, and it could keep those salaries at a stable level. Insurance and drug companies, not doctors, will be the bigger losers financially as we reduce bloated profits and unneeded services through universal healthcare.

Another argument is that a right to health care amounts to socialism and that it should be an individual’s responsibility, not the government’s role, to secure health care. However, no one in one of the richest nations on earth should go without health care, and lack of this vital service kills.  

According to the American Journal of Public Health, nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance. In addition, a study conducted at Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), found that uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts, up from a 25 percent excess death rate found in 1993.

I don't argue that health care should be an essential government service, but the government should interfere to some extent to protect citizens. In a country with some of the best medical research, technology, and practitioners on the globe, people should not have to die due to lack of health care.

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