Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race last night greatly complicates the House-Senate discussions on the health care bill. However, if the House passes the bill and President Obama signs the $871 billion Senate health care overhaul into law it will be the largest expansion of federal health entitlements since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid more than four decades ago. It is expected to extend coverage to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans.
Such a massive expansion of government’s role in our everyday lives and the adding to our already unsustainable federal entitlement programs, begs the question, do we Americans have a right to health care? It is certainly not in our political and philosophical tradition to argue yes.
Progressives and modern liberals have long argued that in the words of Barack Obama, health care “should be a right for every American.” In FDR’s 1944 State of the Union he declared that health care was on the list of economic provisions that should form a second bill of rights that would serve as a supplement to the first 10 amendments of the Constitution. Many liberals such as Roosevelt, Johnson, and now President Obama have attempted to link the right to health care, like other positive economic “rights,” to the American political tradition: a natural right of some sort, or a civil right necessary to put into effect the natural right to life or the pursuit of happiness.
Health care is certainly not a natural right in the Lockean, and thus, American political tradition. In the view of our founders who followed the philosophical thought of John Locke and his ideas of natural right and the social contract, natural rights exist prior to the formation of government. Therefore, since there is no government in the original state of nature, there cannot be a right to government supplied health care in the state of nature. Then maybe perhaps, guaranteed government health care could be regarded as necessary because of its relation to the natural right to life or the pursuit of happiness. This is problematic as well. Even if the right to life led to a government obligation to provide health care, that right would “logically be restricted to medical actions essential to preserve life, especially emergency measures.” However, doctors and other medical professionals already provide emergency treatment without any “grand declaration of rights.” In terms of the pursuit of happiness, there is no evidence that government guaranteed health care is positively correlated with happiness. For instance, 85% of Americans say they are personally happy, which ranks in at about 15th in the world in a survey of 90 countries. Countries with universal health care such as England, France, and Germany lag considerably behind the U.S. in happiness. The founders named in the Bill of Rights among other documents, the civil rights they thought necessary for the execution of natural rights. There is no way possible to establish a right to health care based on the American political tradition.
The late historian and political scientist Samuel P. Huntington once asked, “Who are We?” as he thought America is in the midst of a national identity crisis. His solution was a return to our first principles. In other words, America needs to be reminded that we still hold our founding principles to be self-evident truths. To insist upon universal government health care for every living person in America, is an attempt to change our Lockean philosophical tradition into a Rousseauian utopia. It is an attempt to supplant our republic’s key political principles. If America accepts a positive government obligation to fund health care it would lead indefinitely to a Leviathan without limits. Last night’s victory in Massachusetts will certainly help the conservative effort in the fight against an ever-encroaching state.
Sam K. Theodosopoulos is an undergraduate at The George Washington University where he is a member of the College Republicans and the editor of the GW Young Americas Foundation blog.