Lest We've Forgotten, Health Care Is Not a Right

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The advocates of socialized medicine have insisted for decades that health care is a right. They now feel emboldened enough to proffer the absurdity that health insurance is a right, and they do not bother to make a distinction between the two. "Health care is a right, not a privilege," proclaims Sen. Bernie Sanders in a Huffington Post op-ed calling for the nationalization of medicine. Medicine has become "a business" instead of a higher calling of selfless service, President Obama ruefully tells the American Medical Association.

A right is a political principle defining and sanctioning freedom of action in a social context. It imposes a negative obligation-the obligation to refrain from violating the rights of others-not a positive entitlement. Since government produces nothing, for the government to provide goods and services to some, it must first take them by force from others, which is a violation of their rights.

A privilege connotes a benefit conferred upon individuals or classes by virtue of some factor such as birth or social position, as opposed to merit. The criterion by which people receive medical care is payment. Medicine can only exist because its suppliers earn profits that justify their initial substantial investments of money, energy, and time. That makes medicine a business, whether anyone finds this distasteful or not.

Patients must pay for their medical care somehow. Money is obtained through effort; people receive money in exchange for productive work. Sen. Sanders' objection, then, is to people obtaining medical care because they have earned it. By advocating the redistribution of medical resources, he is seeking to elevate the needy to a privileged class. For health care to be a "right," it must be a privilege.

The economics of socialized medicine are well-known. When free medical care becomes available, hypochondriacs and system-gamers line up at the socialized medicine trough, along with genuinely sick people who seek more services than are justified for their condition. Demand overwhelms supply, and costs go up. Government then imposes price caps on medical goods and services and limits payments to providers to control the escalating costs. This attempted end run around the law of supply and demand forces the suppliers to cut back on the availability, quality, and quantity of medical care. Again, governments produce nothing. They can decree coverage or insurance for everyone, but they have no power to turn this coverage into adequate medical care. Only those who produce medical goods and services can provide them.

Knowing that Americans do not tolerate the impractical, the proponents of socialized medicine have engaged in all manner of contorted exercises lately to make the unworkable appear workable. They back up their calculations with a secret weapon: The citizen's feelings of guilt. "It's a moral issue," assert the advocates of socialized medicine. It certainly is, but not in the way they think. It is immoral to steal and coerce. Doctors are not chattel, and taxpayers are not piggy banks to be broken and raided for the next claimant in line.

The advocates of socialized medicine argue that people should not have to go into bankruptcy just because they are burdened with medical bills they cannot pay. Yes, they should. Bankruptcy does not mean death in this country. It means officially recognized insolvency, which merely puts conditions on the defaulter's financial activity for a specified amount of time into the future. Bankruptcy is a consequence of the defaulter's failure to meet legal financial obligations. The principle at work is justice, the application of cause-and-effect to human affairs.

Those who wish to insure their health have a number of proper choices: They can live safely and healthily, they can accumulate wealth or credit to pay for medical expenses, they can purchase private health insurance, they can seek employment that provides health coverage, they can seek a doctor who is willing to provide payment terms or free services, or they can rely on the charity of others. If a person fails to take any of these measures for any reason and he incurs medical expenses he cannot meet, he must enter into bankruptcy. What he may not properly do is claim that health care and health insurance are "rights" to which he is entitled at the expense of others.

Consider the full meaning of such a claim. Millions of working poor will see a portion of their meager earnings confiscated. New drugs and medical technologies will not be created when they otherwise would, because there is no economic incentive to develop or produce them. Doctors and other health care professionals will work under increasingly primitive and coercive conditions, potentially facing de-licensing, fines, and even jail time for making decisions the government deems too costly or politically out-of-favor.

Patients will see the quality, quantity, and availability of medical care evaporate. The gravely sick will be denied care and forced to face the end of their existence, because saving their lives is too costly under a system of socialized medicine. For what noble purpose will millions of people be effectively enslaved or burdened to the point of suffering or death? To preserve the FICO score, credit lines, and self-esteem of parasites.

The next time a socialized medicine advocate prattles about compassion for those who need medical care, wonder aloud where his compassion is for those whose lives would be destroyed by his scheme.

Wendy Milling is a contributor to RealClearMarkets
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