No, Barack, Medical Care is Not a 'Right'

At last night’s presidential debate, Barack Obama led the charge for government run health care by declaring in no uncertain terms that health care is a “right”. I suppose he thinks Tom and the boys accidentally left that one out of the Constitution. Or maybe it is an extension (in his mind) of the right to life.

But let’s think about this a minute. When our American form of government was created to form “a more perfect union” by insuring the “rights” of its citizens, it recognized only the “inalienable rights”. And to protect those rights, which I’m pretty sure only included life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the government was empowered to use force if necessary.

We created armed forces (and finally an adequate border patrol) to protect our people’s life and liberty from foreign invasion, and then police to protect our pursuit of happiness in the form of private property. So how will we insure medical care?

We can pay for care — we’ve begun doing that in Medicare and Medicaid. We can set up an army of doctors to attend the unattended. We have done that in the form of Public Health Service scholarships that recruit medical students, who, after graduation work in inner cities, reservations, and prisons, etc. But ultimately, when inducements fail, will we draft young people to become doctors and nurses to fill the need to supply medical services? Will we shackle doctors at the job for 36 hours at a time, without sleep or food because there are not enough physicians to meet the “rights” of the people? Will we violate truly inalienable rights of our citizens by taking more and more of their private property through taxation to pay for an inefficient system of government run health care?

No, health care is not a right. It is a service, just like the food service, or transportation. They may be important to out lives — hey, food is more critical than medicine. But they are not rights. We cannot demand food at the grocery store, and pay according to our ability. We cannot force a care dealer to sell us a care at “Medicare” discount rates because we need transportation to get us to work.

Barack Obama is a smart guy. He’s Ivy League-educated and is surrounded by a bevy of similarly bright educated people. Yet he promotes a policy that has failed everywhere it has been tried — Universal Health Care.

Now I grant you that there are other bright people who believe in this Universal Health Care nonsense, but most are taken in by the slogans and cosmic ideals — they have not really delved into the historical details. Viewed from 30,000 feet a cesspool may look like a sylvan lake. Sweden looks reasonably good if you look at global numbers such as perinatal mortality — but this does not disclose the nightmare in Swedish Emergency Rooms where children die for lack of nurses to administer an IV. In Britain, only 42% of patients had brain imaging to confirm their diagnosis of stroke within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms,– a number they themselves deemed "unacceptably low". By contrast, a study in North Carolina was distressed that only 11% of people had a CT scan within 25 minutes! Over 44% had a CT within 2 hours, and by 24 hours over 60-70% of patients in the US will have received a CT scan.

We continue to hear how miserable American medical care is, and how expensive it is. Yes, there are problems — some that are inevitable, and most dating to the sixties advent of Medicare and Medicaid. It is fine to look for improvements, but why do Barack, and his predecessor Kerry, look to socialized Europe or Canada for solutions? During peak times, an American may wait 6 hours to be seen in the ER. In Montreal, he would be on a gurney in the hall for three days. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks Canada in the bottom third of its 29 member countries for availability of medical technology such as MRI and CT scanners. In fact, there are more MRI scanners in Seattle than in all of British Columbia. And, Canadians are not getting this poor access to care at a discount. The OECD ranked Canada fifth (out of 29 member countries) in national health expenditures in 1997.

Universal health care appeals to the well, but fails the sick. Socialized systems allow young, generally healthy people to obtain free low level medical care. But God help you if you need surgery! You’ll wait a year in socialized countries for total joint replacement, and the Ontario Medical Society’s official recommendation, at one point, was to leave the country to get a cardiac catheterization because you might die while waiting in Ontario.

Unfortunately the right answer is not amenable to a sound bite as is the call for free and universal health care. The answer is returning to the free market medical system, which was in place before 1962. Senator McCain is correct in proposing removing tax breaks from corporate health plans. In the past, insurance was insurance, not pre-paid health care. You, not your employer, owned the insurance. You could buy the type and level of insurance you wanted and could afford. You, not your employer, was the insurance customer, so you could vote with your feet against bad policies. (We didn’t need a patient’s bill of rights, nor a portability act until corporations owned your health insurance.) And you didn’t expect insurance to pay for every runny nose or stubbed toe. Charity hospitals, family, and private altruism — not the government — helped to care for the indigent.

The final truth is, politicians who devise these government run systems never have to live with the consequences. Barack Obama will never wait in a crowded inner city Emergency Room. When Boris Yeltsin had his open-heart surgery — he didn’t go to the lousy Soviet universal care hospital, but to a hospital just for the politburo. His Russian doctors were American trained, and even then, he flew Dr. Debakey from Texas to supervise. He knew intuitively what Ayn Rand had stated was true –“It is not safe to trust your life to a man whose life you have throttled.” Trust me, Barack will declare you have a “right” to mediocre medicine, but he will insure his own right to seek out what privilege brings.