Is health care a basic right?

6 June 2016

Can it be limited if the cost of providing unlimited treatment is prohibitive? If so, should it be regarded as a commodity and limited by market mechanisms, or should it be rationed by government regulation? If not, how can the nation pay for it? Health Care, like all other services comes at a financial cost. While we should strive to make health care available and affordable to all, the bottom line is that it is a service that can only be provided if the voting populous agrees on its need.

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Basic human rights do not cost money. We have the right to life and liberty which is great and we do not have to pay for it. We have the right to basic medical care as well. But we can only have that if other people pay for it. And that is the problem with health care as a basic human right. The only way it can happen is if the rights of others are curtailed. Some people will be forced to pay for it and others like doctors and nurses will be forced to provide it.

All people of the world should be able to receive adequate health care when they need it. How this would work is another question all together. When we are talking about governments providing plans and systems for this to work it starts getting very complicated and ever the best and brightest have not come up with the golden bullet. Much work is still needed to figure this one out. Americans consider health care a basic right. Through Medicare, Medicaid, and employer health plan requirements government has arranged broad access to health care. Yet, like other rights, it is limited. For example, patients in managed care do not have the right to unrestricted care and some expensive treatments.

Medical costs continue their rise and the nation cannot afford lavish, universal health care. Instead of a comprehensive rationing system imposed by government, market forces will determine how, when, and for whom care is limited. The HCA saga is a small, but conspicuous part of this trend. Having the government regulate health care cost is so far the best solution because if everyone takes advantage of this unlimited treatment, who will pay for it? In the worst case scenario the nation might probably go bankrupt if they do not regulate it. Thus health care should be limited if the cost of providing unlimited treatment is prohibitive. Health care is an essential service “like education, clean water and air and protection from crime, all of which we already acknowledge are public responsibilities.”

Never mind that many Americans do not believe that public agencies are in fact providing adequate schooling, pollution control, and crime prevention. If we think health care is a right, then we should be appalled that the United States is the only western democracy whose citizens do not have universal access to health care. If you think health care is a commodity, then you should accept the fact that some of those without coverage will end up at the mercy of their hospital when the medical bills come due. Realizing that there is no free lunch when it comes to health care. That is why health care should be rationed by government regulations. Hospitals are a local monopoly.

The result is that hospitals may tend to monopolize their local area, consolidating or driving competitors out of business and then charging rent-extracting prices for their services. Given the basic necessity of healthcare services and the resulting political sensitivity of the issue, this is generally viewed as a Bad Thing. So government serves a role by treating hospitals like an airport, utility, or other natural monopoly, and regulating their prices or rate of return. Many of the arguments in the media for government intervention in the US healthcare market are really observations that the current set of regulations is functioning very poorly. One of the more insidious arguments in this vein is that reform of the healthcare system will lead to rationing of care. But the entire economy is about rationing of goods and services. Unless we are willing to spend a ruinous portion of our GDP on healthcare services, these services will be rationed, one way or another.

The best hope of economists is that they are rationed in an efficient way, a way that lets consumers trade off, as well as possible, the benefit of a healthcare procedure versus the other uses those resources could go to. This is the reason that attaching prices to procedures is in theory a good thing. What gets mixed up with prices is the differential access of the rich and poor to procedures under a price system. Many of the problems with modern healthcare have been trial-and-error attempts to identify what allocations of healthcare are approximately efficient. In the US, they have ended up with a system where we give out too much healthcare, whereas in Britain and elsewhere the problem may lie somewhere toward the other end of the spectrum.

Healthcare industry need to place an honest value, sell products only for what they are worth and involve a third party for payment only when absolutely necessary. But above all there is no value on healthcare costs. The money is not spent on caring for our health. This is how the free market works. It is not a market, and it is not free.

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