Skip to main content

Health care debate ignores rights issue


    Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., the last holdout,
    announces support of Senate health care bill on
    December 19, 2009.   (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg) 

Conspicuously missing from the entire health care reform debate has been the moral issue of whether health care should be a fundamental right of American citizens or not.  The United States is currently the only advanced nation that does not offer universal health care to its people, despite efforts from previous presidents going back to FDR, and including Truman, Nixon and Clinton.  Now, for the first time in our history, after a breakthrough in the Senate this weekend which resulted in support for the Senate bill from a filibuster-proof  60 Senators, this elusive milestone, this historic transformation of health care from a privilege to an affordable right for everyone, this triumphant achievement, is about to become the law of the land.  This is truly a time for citizens to stand up and cheer, to celebrate this long sought right that should be fundamental to any civilized society, a time to march through the streets in joy and gratitude.

But nobody is.  Everyone is angry.  Everyone hates the bill, except for its architects, and even they seem sheepish and embarrassed about the whole affair.  The Republicans have unanimously condemned the bill as just more budget-busting Marxist devilry, every bit as pernicious as Social Security and Medicare, while progressive Democrats and independents have staged a mini-rebellion, lashing out at the bill as little more than a feeble act of cowardly compromise and capitulation.  In fact, some party leaders and political pundits, including Howard Dean and Keith Olbermann, have all but rejected the bill, calling for its scrapping and a fresh start, or an alternate route through the tedious and dubious budget reconciliation process.

Even President Obama, whose soaring rhetoric inspired tens of millions across the nation during the 2008 election campaign, has been curiously silent on the moral imperative, the human rights issue.  Why is that?  We didn't he start the debate off with this fundamental question?  Why haven't we seen it addressed in any of the hundreds of national polls conducted during this long and bitter fight?  Why haven't we seen it debated by the pundits on Sunday talk shows and week night cable news programs?  What could be more important about health care than whether we are entitled to it as a right, or only through our economic purchasing power, and our ability to qualify for private health insurance under the terms they establish?

Is it not a civil rights issue when you get right down to it?  Of course it is.  Then why haven't we approached it as such, as a clarion call to rectify an egregious and shameful societal failure, a heinous form of discrimination against those whose health fails them?  Isn't it bad enough when you become sick or injured, or a victim of some dread condition through no fault of your own?  Is it not a moral outrage to then be denied insurance, to be shackled to a job for no reason other than the employer provided insurance, to be unable to protect your family from the economic ravages of serious illness?

Shouldn't this have been the time that we said. as a nation, that enough is enough, that we will no longer tolerate this assault against ourselves, that we will, at long last unite in this struggle to provide human dignity to every one of us through health care reform?  Shouldn't we all have approached reform as a forgone conclusion, an objective that would be met no matter how long it took or how furiously we argued about the details, because it was the only righteous, the only just and acceptable outcome?

Then why didn't we?  Why haven't we?  What is wrong with us as a people that we don't perceive this issue as an urgent struggle for human rights that must not be denied any longer?

I wish I had the answer.


  • Joe 5 years ago

    The House of Reps health care bill contains a public option, whereas the Senate bill does not. The final bill that will have to be hammered out will either contain a public option or it won't.

    Many House Democrats said that they would not vote yes on a final bill that did not contain a public option.

    If those House Democrats break their promise and cave in and vote yes on a final bill that does not contain a public option, they need to be tossed out in November 2010 or primaried before then if possible.

  • Jerry S 5 years ago

    Nice article. I wholeheartedly agreed. In response to the earlier comment, we will need to hammer out some issues, but Joe, have you no memory of how difficult and fragile this process has been to achieve a single strong step in the right direction? Are you so willing to abandon the good that the bill does offer that you would choose status quo?

  • Joe 5 years ago

    @Jerry $

    "Status quo" - that is a red herring.

    Soon to be ex-Senator Reid could have used 'reconciliation' to get the public option in the Senate bill. He could have used it to go around Lieberman & company. He had no intention of trying to get the public option in the Senate bill to go along with the public option in the House bill. As many prominent progressive bloggers & websites have shown, Obama set out early to scuttle the public option in backroom deals & Harry Reid did not put up a fight.

    The House bill has a public option in it & the Senate bill could have one, too. That would be way more beyond the status quo than what we are seeing now in the present Senate bill.

    Take the blinders off.

    The current bill has 60 Senators for it & 40 against it. A Senate bill with a public option along with what is currently in the Senate bill would have around 57 Senators for it with 43 against it. Hardly any difference. You use reconcilaition to get around those 43 Senators.

  • Jon 5 years ago

    Hmm, maybe because health care is NOT a right? It is a collection of goods and services that involve the labor and skills of many people. If health care is a right, as you claim, then everyone has a "right" to the skills and labor of doctors, nurses, administrative staff, and others. In other words, medical professionals are slaves to the demands of the general population. By natural extension, if you are arguing that health care is a right, then what's not to say that food and shelter are not human rights as well? They are not rights because the farmers and landlords are not slaves to everyone else. What sort of "free" society would allow something like that? That sounds much more like socialism to me. But thanks to people with your mentality, America is becoming less free and more collectivist everyday. But history tells us how this experiment will end...

  • Profile picture of Dan Davis
    Dan Davis 3 years ago

    I would also like to have the right to a free car, because I have to get to work somehow. I also want the right to free food, because eating is a fundamental right. And a free phone, because everyone else has and needs one.

    I recently had major surgury, and spent two weeks in the hospital. The total cost was around $20,000. That's less than most people spend on their cars. If we would just treat health care like another expense and not as an entitlement, and keep it out of the hands of the government who will only screw it up, we'd all be better off, and have better care. Tell the doctor who went to school for 10 years, pays thousands is loan repayment and insurance, that he or she has to provide services for free and see what kind of care you get. My doctors were worth every penny. How many people that complain they can't afford health care have I-Phones? What are their monthly payments added up over a few years? I'm sorry, this is not a right. People have been dying for all of time, as far as I know. Health care isn't free to provide, so we shouldn't expect it to be provided to us for free. You get what you pay for.