In the wake of Mitch “the Bitch” McConnell introducing a Senate bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare that all observers conclude is basically intended to shift all the costs of the Affordable Care Act from the upper tax brackets to the average person who couldn’t afford healthcare in the first place (while at the same time, NOT repealing the Affordable Care Act) it’s worth looking at an opinion piece from well-known liberal blogger Jim Wright, because he phrases public support for healthcare in a basic question: Is healthcare a right or not?
“Either you believe people are entitled to healthcare as a right or you don’t. The rest is just details.
Now, before we go any further, let’s get something straight: I don’t care if your answer is no.
I don’t. Really. I’m not going to condemn you for it. I spent most of my life in the military defending your right to see the world how you want. If you don’t believe that healthcare should be the right of every human being, well, I fully support your right to that viewpoint.
If you’re embarrassed or ashamed to admit your answer is no, that’s on you.
If you don’t believe that healthcare is a right, then at least have the goddamned courtesy to be honest about it.
Own it. Don’t pretend otherwise or try to make it sound like you do when you don’t. Don’t blow smoke up my ass. Don’t move the goalposts. Don’t dismiss the question. Don’t try to rationalize it.”
I support the idea of a national health care system, even a single-payer system. I do NOT think it is a right. In the same way that the country works a lot better with a federal highway system and infrastructure maintenance, but even all the liberals who ask libertarians “who would build the roads?” don’t pose the issue in terms of roads being a right.
Wright continues, “If we all agree that healthcare is not a basic right of human existence, then we must acknowledge that healthcare is a privilege.
And not everybody is privileged. That’s the whole definition of privilege. Some people have it, some don’t. … And you should at least be honest enough to admit that’s what you’re up to. I want to hear every politician, every candidate for office, go on the record, yes or no. And if it’s no, if you believe healthcare is a privilege of those who can afford it, then have the guts to look into the camera and say so. And if you’re voted out of office as a result, or stripped of your privilege by the mob, well, that’s just too goddamned bad.”
Yes, but there’s just one problem. A lot of people think there’s a “right” to a living wage. And in the special election for Georgia’s Congressional District 6, Republican Karen Handel was in a debate with Democrat Jon Ossoff and she got slammed for declaring flat out that she did not believe there had to be a livable wage. And she WON.
I’m pretty sure that whatever your opinion on the subject of minimum wage, we can all agree on this: All minimum wage means is that if it were legal for the company to pay you less, they would.
And specifically that’s because your job, relative to the cost of training your replacement, is worth only that much to the company or less. Which gets to the argument that libertarians like myself make: When you call something a right, that means that it has to be provided or guaranteed, and if it is provided through the private sector, that means it has to be provided by a business. It’s one thing to say that a federal minimum wage needs to be higher than $7.25, especially since it hasn’t increased in almost a decade. It’s one thing to say Walmart and McDonald’s can afford a $15 minimum wage. That doesn’t mean every local business can afford it.
Is the definition of a right something that has to be provided? As Wright points out, the right to bear arms is “the” right where a lot of people are concerned, and it certainly counts as a right in that we are allowed to buy them in the first place. But that doesn’t mean the government will buy a gun for you if you can’t afford one. It certainly doesn’t mean a private gun seller is obliged to provide you a gun and supplies for free. Wright asserts this, and does so against the argument that a provider’s rights are being violated if he is forced to give a service as a “right.”
He continues: “Look here: in America, you have the right to legal representation. If you’re accused of a crime and you cannot afford a lawyer, then one will be appointed to you by the court. Does that make you entitled to another’s labor? Yes. Yes it does. That’s what Public Defenders do. They’re not slaves, they chose to do that job and they’re paid for it. And just because you’re entitled to legal representation doesn’t rob lawyers of their rights. ”
Yes… but as with everything else, you get what you pay for. And if the work isn’t being paid for, regardless of who’s responsible, it often doesn’t get done. According to the Legal Services Corporation: “In the past year, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help… In 2017, low-income Americans will approach LSC-funded legal aid organizations for support with an estimated 1.7 million problems. They will receive only limited or no legal help for more than half of these problems due to a lack of resources.”
In other words, even if we concede that a service IS a right that needs to be provided through government, that doesn’t mean that it will be provided, especially if it cannot or will not be funded. It doesn’t matter whether you call it a right or a “privilege.” It’s a fact.
As I keep saying, the Affordable Care Act did one of the two things required for healthcare reform. It got rid of “pre-existing conditions.” But it depends on a private insurance market which can only profit if it is allowed to screen people for pre-existing conditions that they would then have to pay for. To make sure those companies could stay in business, the “risk pool” was made nationwide through the individual mandate – forcing people to either buy insurance or take a tax penalty, without the price controls that people would need to afford insurance in a now captive market. That is, the Affordable Care Act does not actually make care affordable. It did make a difference insofar as people could get care in the first place, but prices were still too high, and with the mandate there was no longer a means of avoiding them. Thus a lot of people accepted the tax penalty because even that was less expensive than available policies. This in turn caused a lot of companies to leave the marketplace in some states. Remember when I said that not every business could afford a $15 minimum wage? This is how that sort of thing plays out.
On a daily basis, people are more dependent on food, or the Internet, than they are on medical coverage, but we don’t think of these things as “rights” that have to be provided by government, because the private sector is doing a good job of providing them.
Whereas we think of medical coverage as something that has to be provided by government because it is not really something we can get through the private sector, at least not without sacrificing luxuries like food and the Internet.
Which is why I think that it would be a good idea to provide certain things through the government, just as the government funds a lot of things that are beyond the resources or authority of one individual. That in itself doesn’t mean these things are “rights” in the concept of natural rights that are pre-existing and are guaranteed, NOT provided, by government. It means that we as a polity have decided that it is in our best interest to have government do these things. No more, no less. The fact that some on my side will not acknowledge a necessity for anything above bare minimum public services does not justify taking the opposite extreme and defining anything you want as a “right” – partially because that doesn’t answer the question of how the thing will be provided.
As Wright says, the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution says: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Which gets to my real objection. Even if one’s conception of rights is limited to the classical liberal/libertarian concept of “negative rights” (that is, government is required to NOT violate rights that you have naturally), our legal tradition enshrines certain rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion (or conscience) and the right to be secure in your person and documents (a right to privacy). And yet, government in recent years, especially in this Administration, has not been very supportive of these rights and has often tried to suppress them. So if the government is hostile to enumerated rights that have frequently been upheld in the courts, what are the chances of it supporting politicized “rights” that the previous administration just made up?
I keep going back to Wright’s essay, because he really does go through most if not all of the hypotheticals, and his basic thesis is, “is healthcare a right? Yes or no. The rest is just details.” Yes, but THE DETAILS ARE THE PART THAT FUCKING MATTER. Specifically, what kind of government we have and what its priorities are. Because we already have rights that everyone agrees exist, and right now we have a government that says those rights shouldn’t exist.
The first priority is having a government that protects our rights. ANY of them. Once you have that, the question of what should be regarded as a right is much simpler. Without that, the question is meaningless.