Many industrialized nations provide universal health care access to their citizens. However, America is different from its peers because it has struggled to provide unlimited access to health care services, despite being one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Statistics show that more than 39 million people are uninsured in America (Cundiff and McCarthy 5). Furthermore, millions more are at risk of losing their insurance coverage because they are vulnerable to job losses. A sizeable number of Americans also risk losing their medical coverage because they are elderly or underage (below18 years) (Jerome 126).
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Stakeholders in the healthcare sector have attempted to increase medical coverage in America using different strategies. For example, the Obama administration introduced a subsidized healthcare program (ObamaCare) to serve uninsured populations, while Congress introduced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a legislative tool to cater to vulnerable populations (especially those aged between 19-26 years) who may be uninsured because they are eligible for employment (Hoffman 311).
Most of these reforms in the healthcare sector have been designed to increase health care access, evaluate people’s health status, and enhance the adoption of ethical health care practices (Jerome 79). Although they have had mixed outcomes, the reforms mostly draw people’s attention to whether access to medical services is a right or a privilege.
Although the concept of a universal health care system may be unclear to some people, this paper only focuses on access issues. More importantly, it is premised on the ideological issues informing the US health care model, which is primarily based on the private insurance model. This argumentative paper explores two points of view, which manifest a clash in two philosophies about whether health care is a right or not. On the one hand, this paper investigates the view that healthcare services should be provided as a right, while, on the other hand, it examines the idea that access to medical services is a privilege available to those who work hard enough to get it. After weighing both arguments, the view that healthcare reforms should be premised on the idea that health care access is a basic right prevails.
Access to Healthcare is a Right
Some people hold the view that healthcare services in America should be offered as a right that every citizen should have. To support this argument, they say medical services are not different from those offered by the police and the fire department (Hoffman 23). The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (made in 1948) also supports the view that healthcare is a right because it states, “everyone deserves an opportunity to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care” (Ferrell and Fraedrich 296).
Different developed countries similarly support the view that healthcare is a universal right. For example, Germany, Canada, and most Scandinavian countries provide universal health care to all its citizens because they believe in the ubiquity of this service (Hoffman 21). They also believe offering this service to all people is important to the welfare of their citizens. Analysts say that if America adopts the same kind of reforms, it will benefit from the expansion of healthcare services (Jerome 126).
Researchers who support this point of view say that such an advantage would be welcomed because the reforms would solve a fundamental problem of the American health care system – affordability (Almgren 29). Indeed, the reforms would allow anyone to gain access to available health care services regardless of their financial position, status, or class in society.
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Pundits argue that such a system would expand medical services to the citizens and, by extension, improve their wellbeing (Almgren 29). Some people have extended this argument further and opined that Americans would benefit from increased life expectancy because most countries that operate on the premise that healthcare is a basic right often report higher life expectancies (Cundiff and McCarthy 3).
This is the case in a comparative case between the US and Canada because studies have shown that Canadian citizens have a 3% longer lifespan compared to their American counterparts (Cundiff and McCarthy 3). Overall, these arguments support the view that healthcare access is a human rights issue because everybody deserves the right to live a healthy and normal life. However, some people disagree with this view, as explained below.
Health Care Access Is a Privilege
The private health insurance model that characterizes the American health care system thrives on the idea that access to medical services is an individual responsibility and not a government obligation. Those who hold this view often give examples of lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, to reinforce the view that individuals hold the greatest responsibility for their health (Ferrell and Fraedrich 296).
Other supporters of this view also claim that reforming the American healthcare system on the universal health care plan would significantly increase medical costs because everybody would depend on the government for their health needs (Flower 55-58). Critics fear that such an outcome could lead to an increase in taxation and the inability of the government to offer certain public services to its people because it would now have an extra burden of paying for its citizens’ healthcare costs (a responsibility in never had) (Flower 55-58).
At the core of such concerns is the fear that reforming the American medical system to introduce a universal healthcare model would lead to the development of a culture of “carelessness” among the people because Americans would know that if they get hurt or sick, the government will pay for their medical costs (Ferrell and Fraedrich 296).
Quality issues have been another ground for criticizing reforms in the American healthcare system. Typically, experts believe that the privatization of medical services in America has made sure that the citizens get high-quality health services (Ferrell and Fraedrich 296).
Based on this view, they are concerned that possible reforms to this model of medical service delivery could significantly have a negative effect on quality. The same argument has reverberated in different medical and academic literature, such as through the works of Hoffman (39). Their main argument is hinged on the view that reforming the current healthcare system to have a universal appeal would abolish competition in the medical space, which is a key ingredient of quality control (Hoffman 39). Pundits have given examples of England and Canada, where medical workers are considered government employees (Flower 55-58).
Since there is no desire to compete with each other, they are vulnerable to laziness or other virtues that would limit their motivation to provide quality services. The underlying argument here is that competition helps to spur many medical practitioners to provide quality care. Without it, people assume that quality would be compromised. These arguments explain some of the reasons why some people believe healthcare reforms are unnecessary.
Based on the contrasting points of view advanced by two groups of people who believe that healthcare access is a right and those who believe it is a privilege, arguments leaning towards healthcare being a human right seems to have more weight than those that propose otherwise. Concerns have been raised about reforming the healthcare model to reflect this view. Those highlighted in this paper have focused on quality issues, cost concerns, and behavioral problems.
Most of the arguments advanced for the objection of healthcare reform in America are flimsy. For example, some observers mentioned in this paper have highlighted quality issues as possible reasons for maintaining the traditional private model insurance. However, this reason is unjustifiable because it focuses on a small area of healthcare management (quality) and dismisses the main goal of healthcare service provision, which is saving and improving people’s lives. If a significant percentage of the American population is denied medical access based on quality concerns, only a few people will benefit from the current system.
While these criticisms of the universal healthcare system have merit, stakeholders should not allow them to cloud the main goal of medical service provision, which is to save lives. Furthermore, there are many examples around the world to show how such a universal healthcare system would not only cover all citizens but also be able to provide quality and affordable medical care to all. Indeed, not everybody can pay for his or her health care services.
This is why many Americans who do not have a job find it difficult to access medical services. The same is true for elderly citizens who cannot work. Those who are disabled suffer the same fate because they have to depend on family and well-wishers to cater for their medical needs. Therefore, the private insurance system is discriminatory. This model is also unethical because gaining access to medical services could mean the distinction between life and death.
Therefore, by extension, denying uninsured populations access to healthcare services is akin to denying them their right to live. Implicitly, access to healthcare services is the protection of life. Similar to how the federal government uses police and fire departments to protect life, they should do the same by guaranteeing all citizens access to medical services.
Most people who advocate for the maintenance of the status quo fail to realize that the current system is broken. It leaves many people uninsured and vulnerable to different ailments. In addition to its discriminatory nature, the lack of a universal healthcare plan in America has led to the creation of an inefficient model where Americans do not get value for money. Comparatively, other countries pay for less and get more value (Flower 55-58).
The rot with the American healthcare model stems from its profit-oriented nature. This framework has to change and pave the way for the formation of a universal medical system. The change would only happen through a paradigm shift where stakeholders in the sector start to view access to healthcare as a basic human right and not a privilege. Therefore, stakeholders should design these reforms to reflect the universal model because it is the only way to instill sanity and promote efficiencies in the country’s medical system. The private insurance model, which has dominated the country for a long time, is defective because it promotes the accumulation of profit at the expense of human life.
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Here, only those people who could pay for healthcare services benefit at the expense of those who cannot. If stakeholders frustrate reforms and allow this system to permeate throughout different levels of the society, a significant proportion of Americans would still be unable to access medical services. It is a “winner-take-all” approach to health care management, which the country should not entertain, at the expense of people’s lives.
This paper argues that health care reform in the United States should be premised on the idea that access to medical services is a basic human right and not a privilege of those who could afford it. Arguments that characterize these two schools of thought show that traditionally, the country has adopted a for-profit model of service delivery, which is ineffective and inefficient. It is no longer tenable to defend this framework because it costs the taxpayer a lot of money without any commensurate value to show for it.
The concerns raised in this paper about the adoption of a universal health care system need to be dismissed because America is not undertaking an experiment to find out whether such a system would work or not; instead, it is simply making a choice regarding which model is superior to the other. Evidence abounds to demonstrate the superiority of the universal system. Its implementation should be firmly rooted in the philosophy that access to healthcare services is a right and not a privilege.
Almgren, Gunnar. Health Care as a Right of Citizenship: The Continuing Evolution of Reform. Columbia University Press, 2017.
Cundiff, David, and Mary McCarthy. The Right Medicine: How to Make Health Care Reform Work Today. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.
Ferrell, Owen, and John Fraedrich. Business Ethics: Ethical Decision Making & Cases. Cengage Learning, 2012.
Flower, Joe. Healthcare Beyond Reform: Doing It Right for Half the Cost. CRC Press, 2012.
Hoffman, Beatrix. Health Care for Some: Rights and Rationing in the United States Since 1930. University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Jerome, Jessica. A Right to Health: Medicine, Marginality, and Health Care Reform in Northeastern Brazil. University of Texas Press, 2015.