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Health Care Is Not a Privilege … Nor Is It a Right

The push to make health care "a right" would in fact result in the violation of rights.

by
Brian T. Schwartz

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September 8, 2009 - 12:08 am
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A popular but flawed argument is that “health care is a right, not a privilege.” Health care is neither a right nor a privilege. Rather, we all have the right to seek medical treatment through voluntary trade or charity.

Ironically, those who claim health care is “a right and not a privilege” support policies that make it a privilege. When government enforces an alleged “right” to health care, the political class decides what health care is and when it’s appropriate for people to get it. That is, health care becomes a privilege granted by those in charge.

For example, Canadian authorities deemed Bill Murray of Alberta “too old” for a hip procedure — and prohibited him from paying for it himself.

Health care is not a right. Rights are freedoms of action, not entitlements to what others produce. A “right” to health care violates the rights of those who produce it.

“Health care” consists of diagnoses and treatments by highly-trained medical professionals. It involves sophisticated products, instruments, and tests designed and developed at great investment, effort, and cost by scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. That is, people produce health care.

Nor is medical care a privilege. A privilege is something authority figures permit us to do at their discretion. No one considers auto repair to be a right, but it’s absurd to consider it “a privilege.” No one grants you the “privilege” of having money to repair your car. Rather, if you want to own a functioning car, you must take responsibility to finance its repair by earning wealth. The same goes for medical treatment. As Mark Twain said, “the world owes you nothing” — adults must take responsibility to finance medical treatment they want. People who choose to become parents are also responsible for paying for their children’s medical treatment.

There’s no right to health care, just as there’s no right to happiness. But the pursuit of happiness is a right. Similarly, everyone has the right to pursue medical treatment through voluntary exchange with those who produce it. We also have the right to protect ourselves against medical expenses as we see fit. Low-premium catastrophic insurance is just one option. Others include more costly comprehensive health plans, paying a retainer at a cash-only clinic, or obtaining membership in a health care co-op or health care sharing ministry.

Yet when politicians seek to guarantee health care as a right, they decide what qualifies as appropriate medical treatment. Whether you get the treatment you want depends on the discretion of authorities.

That is, health care becomes a privilege.

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