I know a lot of people are concerned about the cost of the new health care bill/law, and possibly with good reason. I'm not sure anyone can say for sure how it will affect everyone now and ten years down the road. But when I heard people at rallies and in my own Small Town newspaper saying that health care isn't a right—with someone even comparing it to driving privileges—I wanted to scream. No, it didn't just make me angry, it made me sad—sad that Americans could be so uncaring about their fellow citizens as if it's every man for himself. It isn't, you know. It can't be every man for himself, or we'll all come tumbling down. That's what I think, anyway, so here is today's opinion piece in the same newspaper where someone else equated health care with driving, something you've got to earn.
Congress passed a bill that reformed elements of our health care and instituted laws governing the insurance industry that helps us pay for it. Two days later, President Obama signed the bill into law, and reaction has been anything but tepid. About half the U.S. population is in favor of the bill and considers it a victory, and the other half is angry—the new law has either gone too far or not far enough.
It used to be said of the American people that we are apathetic, but that clearly is not the case, and political leaders and citizens on both side of the spectrum have been feverishly debating. In many cases, they have found common ground in understanding that some reform in the health insurance industry was necessary, but they have argued over related issues and financing. I find it encouraging that so many people still care what goes on in our government, and I appreciate the differences in opinion when presented reasonably.
What I don’t appreciate, and in fact am entirely befuddled by, is the notion that has been at the root of this intense debate for so many of the most vocal participants—the idea that health care is not a right in this country but a privilege. It is not something the Constitution specifically grants to us and is therefore a matter for each individual to provide for himself without help from the larger group.
I went to a dictionary for the meaning of “privilege” and found this: it is a benefit enjoyed by an individual or class of people, something held as a prerogative of status. In contrast, the definition of a right is something due to anyone by just claim or moral principle. Driving a car is a privilege that must be earned and can be revoked, for example, while free speech is a permanent right granted to us by nature of our being citizens.
Given the definitions of these two terms, right and privilege, I am hard pressed to understand how an American can define health care as anything but a right. How could we consider the preservation and promotion of our general welfare as something that must be earned or a benefit that is only granted to people of an elevated financial status?
A recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School finds that as many as 45,000 Americans die annually related to lack of health care, which means one of us dies every 12 minutes for lack of care. When someone actually dies because they can’t afford health care, how can we respond with what amounts to a shrug by declaring health care a privilege?
“Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things,” said Alexander Hamilton of the document he helped form.
He understood that men of his time could not predict what needs or social changes may arise in the future, so the Constitution should allow for additional laws to meet the evolving needs of the people—voting rights should be granted to non-whites and women, reasonable access should be granted to the physically disabled, education should be desegregated, equal rights should be afforded to everyone regardless of race or gender and citizens should be assured of humane treatment when faced with high medical bills and depleted funds.
Hamilton also said, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased.” I consider access to basic health care a right granted to me and to you by nature of our being human and by nature of our being citizens of a great nation.
Regardless of how we each feel about this new health care reform law, can we all at least agree on this one thing—that health care is a right owned by all Americans, not a privilege granted to only those with enough cash at their disposal.