Agree or disagree with John Mackey, CEO of the Whole Foods grocery chain, but he does cut straight to a major philosophical division in the health care debate: Is there or is there not a “right” to health care? Mackey says no:
Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.
Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.
As I noted in my last post, I can’t help but feel there is something wrong when people are denied health care, and in some cases life, due to a lack of money. But is health care just another market good, or is it something else? Nobody argues that there is a right to a car, though a car is a nice thing. Nobody argues that there is a right to a nice new suit, though new suits are nice things. Nobody says there is a right to a TV, though TVs can bring us vital information and amusing entertainment.
Somehow, though, health care seems to fall into a different category, doesn’t it? We’ve tried, haltingly at least, to establish a kind of floor or minimum baseline of goods for American citizens. We think it’s wrong if kids don’t have an education, if people have no place to live, if the air and water are not clean. Wouldn’t some kind of health care–if not a Cadillac plan, at least a Ford Focus plan–also belong among those minimum goods?
I can’t get too philosophical at the tail end of a tiring week, but these questions should be part of this important discussion we’re sort of having. Is there such a right? If so, what guarantees or enforces it? From whence does it spring? Does the Declaration’s “unalienable right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” mean we are entitled to some kind of health care?
Mackey’s whole piece, including his ideas for reform, is here. If you read it, you get a 20% discount on a pound of Whole Foods’ caramel-crusted asiago-infused Norwegian halibut, regularly $47. Just kidding.