Is Healthcare a Human Right?

There is a large and well-funded national movement called the Universal Health Care Action Network behind Vermont’s push for a single payer system that gives new meaning to the term “Astroturf”. The concern is more about using Vermont as “a springboard” to push for the movement’s idea of what reform should look like:

“Vermont is leading the way to universal health care using national reform as a springboard and based on a single payer system.If one state can make real progress on comprehensive health reform, that will help all of us no matter where we are in the struggle in our own states!”

The list of coalition partners that they have put together is fairly substantial and represents a LOT of resources that can be utilized to push this proposed reform through hastily without stopping to answer the questions that Vermonters have. The group has even sent out a fundraising letter to state groups from all over the country to raise money to buy advertisements aimed at pushing the proposed single payer reform through.

As big as that coalition is, it is not the only effort pushing for a single payer healthcare system. There is another group called “Health Care For America Now“. This group may be even bigger than the UHCN. Here is how their website describes them:

“Health Care for America Now (HCAN) is a national grassroots campaign of more than 1,000 organizations in 46 states representing 30 million people dedicated to winning quality, affordable health care we all can count on in 2010 and beyond. Our organization and principles are supported by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and more than 190 Members of Congress.”

In 2009 the group received $5 Million in support form George Soros. The same year they did a study on the problems with Vermont’s insurance market, which they used as an excuse to push for single payer. What the study does not say is that it was reforms proposed by Vermont’s political leadership, which resulted in yet more government interference in the private insurance industry market that ruined the market.

The fact that HCAN’s study does not take into account the impact of previous reform efforts that increased government involvement in the market raises questions on the validity and motivation of that study. Such questions are amplified when one considers that the proposed remedy is even more government intervention in the healthcare market.

Single Provider has to be stopped at the state level, so that they cannot institute this state-up plan when healthcare is repealed at Federal level.  To stop this effort, it is important to arm ourselves with a counter to the moral arguments that the left is using to push for this. The arguments over cost containment and quality of health care are really side arguments, as a very good case can be made that the free market sector approach actually addresses these concerns more effectively.  In an article on Shulim’s “Universal Health Care Bill”, the Vermont Worker’s Center gets right to the point and highlights the “human rights guidelines” included in the bill.  This is the argument that free market critics of the bill need to address.  Is health care a human right?  The argument that it is establishes the duty of government to provide us with health care.  America was founded on the premise that governments were instituted among men to secure certain “unalienable rights”.  What is an unalienable right?

The word unalienable roughly means non-transferable.  In other words, it is a right that can neither be given to us of be taken away, but is endowed to us by our creator.  We posses such rights as an endowment from our creator as a free and rational being.  Governments can only recognize and secure such rights; it does not give them to us, nor can it take them away.  These are called “negative rights” in that they limit the government by telling it what it cannot do to you.  For example, the government is not allowed to take an innocent life because life is an unalienable right that comes from our creator and not from government.  The same is true for the right to acquire property, the right to free speech, the right to assemble, etc.

Opposed to this notion of rights is what is called “positive rights”, an idea that found its way into this country from Europe and has been embraced by Progressives like President Obama himself.  Positive rights tell the government what it must do for you. Progressives see limiting government to securing “negative rights” as a hindrance when it comes to enacting their social justice agenda. Here are the relevant quotes from the President:

But,” Obama said, “The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.  And to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical.  It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, as least as it’s been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted in the same way that, generally, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn’t shifted.

Obama added, “one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways, we still stuffer from that.”

This notion leads to a potentially endless expansion of government because there is no limit to the number of positive rights, which we could insist that the government provide us with.  Our founders rejected the notion of positive rights for two reasons.  The first reason was that it was something that the government had to give to you, so it was not an unalienable right.  If the government can give us something, it can take it away as well.  No such right could be secure from a tyrannical government.  In fact, history has shown that precisely such rights were showered on the people by would be tyrants as they consolidated power.  As the Roman Empire was changing from a Republic to an Empire, the Caesars would hand out grain to the masses so that they were loyal to him, rather than the Roman Senate.  The dependency created by the positives rights, and the potentially unlimited expansion of government that would be the inevitable result of this approach, were seen as dire threats to personal liberty.  The other reason for such a rejection was the obvious fact that government does not own that which it would distribute.  In order to distribute the goods demanded by a positive rights approach, the government would have to first confiscate them from someone.  This is not only a threat to liberty in general and property rights in particular, it posses a dire threat to the social order.  What happens here is that one group of citizens is encouraged to lobby for the state to take from another group of citizens so the can gain at the other’s expense.  This creates a war of one sector of society against another and breeds envy and resentment, thus making the compassionate community impossible.

Americans should take a long look at their understanding of rights and the consequences of adopting a definition of human rights that our founder explicitly rejected as a threat to both liberty and community.