Americans have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Senator Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for the President of the United States. Even so, he strongly supports having the federal government provide health insurance for every American. He says healthcare is right. He is wrong.
A right is generally defined as “ a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.” Healthcare is not an entitlement, nor should it be. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are numerous rights humans have, but the right to healthcare is not included.
The Declaration of Independence of the United States says all Americans have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Nowhere in any definition of rights, is there any mention of the right to have health care. The rights mentioned above, all deal with the rights that individuals should have in their daily lives and in their pursuit of happiness. There is no mention of a right that requires other citizens to pay for something some citizens can’t afford to pay for themselves.
Most people, in most societies, tend to be compassionate. In the US, compassionate Americans are willing to give some of the income they earn to those, who for whatever reason, have not earned sufficient income to pay for the necessities of life.
Through the government, compassionate Americans will agree to have the government use some of their earnings to ensure all Americans have at least some income. There are specific government programs where income earners have agreed to allow the federal government the ability to take some of their earnings and fund a welfare program, a food stamp program, a housing program and some other programs.
These income transfer programs were never intended to imply that any and all Americans have a right to food stamps or a right to welfare or a right to Section 8 housing allowances. The programs are not rights. They exist because of the compassionate generosity of fellow Americans.
Sanders wants to go beyond that. He says that all Americans have a right to basic income, food and shelter. The truth is these are not rights. These are programs that the majority of compassionate Americans freely choose to support.
Health care is expensive. Ideally, Americans would like to see everyone covered by health insurance. But the price for that is too high. We tried the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which increased the percentage of Americans with health insurance from 85% of the population to 91%. That means 6% of the population, about 20 million people, benefited.
Meanwhile, 275 million Americans had to pay more and received less care. While about half of Americans just accepted this, the other half strongly objected. Now the ACA may be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as early as this summer. That means we will have to debate health care policy again.
If healthcare was given to all Americans who couldn’t afford it, the majority would have to pay even more for their healthcare and receive even less. This is not an ideal situation. Eventually, the quality of healthcare would decline and those who do pay would object.
President Trump has a better solution. Instead of simply giving healthcare to all Americans, Trump wants to give every able-bodied American the opportunity to earn enough income to pay for their own health insurance. That’s why Trump concentrated on economic growth and providing opportunity.
His policies paid off, since, by the end of 2019, the unemployment rate was at a historical low, meaning more Americans had jobs and could pay for their own health care.
By declaring healthcare coverage to be a right, many people will not be concerned with earning enough income to pay for it. Rather people will know they can get coverage without paying, so many will simply not pay. That creates yet another burden on those of us who do pay for our healthcare.
Americans have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Beyond that, those in need will have to rely on the compassion of their fellow citizens. There is, however, a limit for how compassionate Americans can and should be.
Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics.