As you may remember, we in the U.S. just had an extremely contentious debate about health care and health insurance. During this debate, I forwarded a few key articles and commented on a few key threads, but I never really wrote an entire article of my own explaining my perspectives on health care.
Now that the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” and the “Health Care and Education Reconciliation” bills have passed, many people think that the issue over and done with. These bills, however, are not what many people think they are, and certainly not a good solution to the problems at hand. Therefore, I still feel an urge to speak out in favor of universal health care.
Why do I support universal health care? There’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is that I want to be sure that everyone has access to health care, regardless of their income level. The long answer is — well, long.
I believe that humans have rights. How rights relate to non-humans is a topic for another article. In the meantime, let me say that I believe that humans have natural rights based on their innate qualities as humans. I also believe that humans have legal rights based on their natural rights as interpreted by the social contract of their community. In other words, legal rights are (on a good day) a community’s best effort to identify our natural rights as humans and articulate these rights into a set of laws.
Some of these rights derive from our nature as individualistic creatures. For example, our innate capacity for self-awareness, observation, and decision-making supports our right to freedom of choice. We are born to be free, and any action that cuts against that freedom is an affront to our very nature as humans.
Other rights derive from our nature as social creatures. For example, when humans are born, we are virtually helpless, unable to care for ourselves or make our way in the world. As social creatures, we take care of our own young, and we often take care of the young of other members of our community. Leaving a helpless child to starve, or to be killed, or to die of exposure, runs contrary to our basic humanity and is an affront to our very nature as humans.
Of course, there is plenty of variation in behavior in the natural world, and some animals behave in far more brutal ways than others. But this social dimension to human behavior is a strong and clear tendency in our evolutionary heritage. We can look to this tendency when considering who we are and what aspects of ourselves we focus on while forming our social contract with one another.
Universal health care is a human right that derives from our nature as social creatures. Adults who are fully capable of caring for themselves shouldn’t expect to rely on the aid of other community members in the way that a child does. Such behavior demonstrates a lack of responsibility that will lead to displeasure and shunning in even the most social of communities. But when someone has difficulty meeting their most basic needs, members of their community often help them. And if someone is sick or hurt, and the community has some way of helping them, they do so. This is because social creatures empathize with one another and consider what they would like members of the community to do for them if they were in a similar situation.
People who oppose universal health care often believe in individual rights, but not social rights. Or, they believe that when individual rights and social rights are in conflict, individual rights must prevail.
But this is a false dichotomy. This is “zero sum” thinking which assumes that in order for me to win, someone else must lose. When we realize that humans are inherently social creatures, however, we can get past this zero sum thinking.
Individual freedom and social cooperation can go hand in hand. In order for this to happen, though, a majority of people in a given community need to recognize that humans have both individualistic and social tendencies, and that the best way for us to live together in a community is to formulate a social contract that nourishes both tendencies simultaneously, thus allowing individuals to live together in a community of free cooperation.
How does this translate into health care?
Health care addresses our most basic survival needs. If we’re sick, or injured, or otherwise not well, we have limited ability to ensure our continued survival. Depending on the severity of the situation, we may go through a prolonged period of inability to work, severe suffering, or even death.
If someone is able to secure their own health care, then more power to them. But if not, then they have a right as members of our community to ask for our assistance, and we have a responsibility to assist them.
Even in today’s rather insane times, most people agree with this basic idea that members of a community choose to cooperate toward common goals and help each other in times of need. The only question is when and where to draw the line in terms of what constitutes a common goal and what qualifies as a time of need.
Maybe we need to fund grade school education, but not high school education. Maybe we need to fund high school, but not college. Maybe we need to fund fire departments and police departments, but not health departments.
This type of debate is completely understandable. People can, in good conscience, have different opinions on this topic. People can also exercise their free will and choose to form social contracts that deny our social nature entirely and reject social service programs such as universal health care that address some of our most basic survival needs.
Yes, we can choose to reject universal health care. However, I would argue that this choice bring us out of harmony with key aspects of what it means to be fully human. Perhaps more importantly to some people, though, this choice leads to undesirable consequences for all members of the community.
Some choices lead to more desirable communities, and some lead to less desirable ones. If we choose not to create systems of free cooperation that empower us to share our medical expenses and ensure universal coverage, then the consequence of that choice is that a certain percentage of us will always be suffering and dying from preventable illnesses.
Do you want to live in that kind of community? Do you want to live in a community where your neighbor, or your relative, or your friend, will be sick, or suffering, or dying, because they are unable to pay for health care? Even if you believe that you will always be wealthy enough to pay for your own health care, and wealthy enough to help any friends or relatives or neighbors with their health care, consider the effect on your community and society.
The newly passed health insurance legislation doesn’t solve the problem. Instead of establishing universal access to health care, it mandates almost universal purchasing of private health insurance. Instead of giving our health care money directly to health care providers, we are forced to funnel it through corporate middle-men who skim a high percentage off of the top. And people who are too low-income to buy private health insurance will be given subsidies to help them do so. In other words, instead of spending your tax dollars on health care, they will instead be given to health insurance corporations, which in turn will spend part on health care and part on pure profit.
Why are we accepting this? Why are giving billions upon billions of our tax dollars to the very corporations that willfully subverted the democratic process by destroying all efforts to establish a universal health care system?
I believe that we’re letting it happen because most of us don’t grasp what exactly has happened, and most of the rest don’t think we have the power to fight back against this corporate tampering with our democracy.
But I disagree. We do have the power to fight back. It may take days, weeks, months, years, even decades. But we, the people, have the power to break free of the propaganda and economic stranglehold of the insurance companies and other large corporations. And we have the power to recognize that people who want to live in a better society will choose to support essential social services like universal health care. And once we have recognized this, we the people have the power to make it happen.
I know that a lot of us are feeling “debate fatigue” over this issue given the extensive health insurance debate that just took place in this country. But now, as the plan is implemented step by step, we need to be there step by step to call for a more sane plan that ensures universal health care.