The Corner

Re: Health Care as a Right

The discussion Ramesh and Kathryn note below—from Newsweek’s blog—is the latest in a long line of efforts to turn the health care debate into a matter of pure ethics, so that the immense practical problems with government-financed or government-run health care don’t have to be considered. Given the complexities and exigencies of health care financing, what exactly is the use of arguing about whether we’re talking about a right? Everyone agrees that too many people don’t have access to health care, and we already have in place large and expensive mechanisms for helping those who can’t afford coverage or care receive it when they need it. This approach—everyone again agrees—is badly inadequate and ill-designed. The question is how to make the situation better without creating bigger problems than we solve. That is not a theological or philosophical question, but an economic and policy question. The various answers coalesce into two broad schools: one believes competition, markets, and choice can minimize the need for government intervention and thereby the cost of helping those most in need of help, and the other believes the peculiar character of health care makes it immune to the logic of the market and only muscular government involvement can overcome the existing inefficiencies of its provision. There are many good and intelligent people in both camps, and there are many in between as well. But their dispute is a practical and largely economic one. No one is arguing that fewer people should be covered, the disagreement is over how to cover more without wrecking the economy or wrecking American health care or both.

With all due respect to Newsweek’s religion bloggers (and even to the Pope), I don’t think they are really the best equipped people to provide an answer. The Newsweek bloggers don’t think so either: they’re not trying to provide an answer, they’re trying to evade the question, because it puts their preferred approach in a bad light.

A wise man once put it this way:

What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor of metaphysics.

Edmund Burke wrote that in 1790. The more things change…

Yuval Levin — Yuval Levin is the editor of National Affairs and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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