Sunday, September 6, 2009

Health Care is a Right

One of my friends of a more conservative bent has challenged a statement I made in writing that I considered health care to be a right. In fact, I do consider that any person, irrespective of ability to pay, should be able to receive health care appropriate to their needs without forcing the person, or family members, into bankruptcy because the costs exceed the ability to pay. Does this constitute a right that is embodied formally within the language of the U.S. Constitution? No, but it is in part, instead, a recognition of a certain reality that does exist together with a sense of compassion born of that reality. Let me explain by example.

Hypothetical number one: A young single man with no medical insurance runs his motorcycle into a tree and suffers a life-changing severance of his spinal cord at the cervical level. This injury will render him permanently quadriplegic. He is taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital where his medical problem and his uninsured status are recognized. Does the hospital refuse to admit and treat him? [Note: This type of scenario was probably the source of President George W. Bush’s confusion about everyone in America not needing health insurance because all they had to do was go to the local emergency room.]

Hypothetical number two: A young mother, takes her child to an inner city private clinic run by a pediatrician who treats the child without charge. The pediatrician knows that more than one half of the patients in his practice cannot afford his services, but he provides treatment to them anyway. Can this kind doctor afford to routinely provide services free of charge?

In both situations, the health care provider must make some sort of correction in the charges that are made to people who can pay (either via insurance or in cash) so that the care provided to the two case hypotheticals can be rendered free.

In both of these situations, the tough conservative point-of-view may be the asking of the question as to why should these people who are so careless or lazy should be supported by others. I must admit that at times, I have felt some anger at the thirty or forty young men who lay in beds at the Rehab Institute while our taxpayer dollars support their care to the tune of millions of dollars annually. If they had stayed away from their damn motorcycles, we wouldn't have all this cost.

There is another hypothetical. Number three is the young family man who does have health care insurance and a good paying job who, for one reason or another, is denied coverage when his medical needs exceed the amount of insured coverage. The young man loses his home through foreclosure and is forced into bankruptcy. This scenario is by no means just hypothetical, but is the most common reason for the foreclosure crisis today.

The basic feature that these three scenarios have in common is the sense of compassion of medical professionals that says ‘no one should be denied care simply because it cannot be afforded.’ The costs of treatment received by those who cannot afford it are routinely borne by those who can. Although not embodied in the constitution, there is a common law right to receive decent medical care if and when the need arises and society has always paid, or at least tried to pay, for it.

In the good old days, homeowners had to hire private firefighting companies to save their property. Nowadays, we have our fire departments remaining on standby 24 hours daily. I just re-read the Constitution and it does not mention fire fighting as a right of all Americans. The same could be said of most services we have come to routinely accept from our various branches of government.

The argument about health care should not be based on entitlement considerations. It should be based on a purely economic assessment as to who should bring more bang for the buck.

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