Should Healthcare Be Considered a Basic Right in the United States?

Omair Ali

Perspectives Editor


NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio delivering an announcement that NYC will ensure healthcare as a basic right for all its residents through its new program. Photo Credit: Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Healthcare has been a hot topic in America for a while, and many are interested in knowing what’s to become of the U.S.’s healthcare system in the 21st Century. Some issues pertaining to healthcare revolve around the affordability and accessibility of healthcare services. Healthcare in the U.S. is becoming increasingly urgent as more people become negatively impacted by our costly system.

Recently, New York City (NYC) Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new $100M-yearly program, whose aim is to guarantee healthcare to NYC’s 600,000 non-insured individuals by directly paying for at least some, if not all, of their healthcare services. The new program will provide more primary care services and focuses more on preventive care instead of the existing plan to care for the uninsured, which has been expensive for NYC. This plan provides care to the uninsured regardless of legal status, giving undocumented immigrants access. Although this plan appears to require a significant initial investment, officials are hopeful that this move will reduce long-term healthcare costs. The plan also includes an expansion of the MetroPlus program, which is a public program that provides affordable insurance plans to NYC residents. While it is not entirely sure how NYC will allocate its resources to only the medically-indigent or why $100M will be spent yearly on ensuring care, it would certainly be wise to exercise some skepticism towards the promises of the program and wait for its outcomes at the end of 2019.

Universal healthcare coverage might seem like a foreign concept to many Americans, who may equate this idea with socialism. However, several capitalistic nations have guaranteed healthcare as a basic right, including Vietnam and Switzerland.Where the United States gives people the choice to have healthcare insurance, these countries make healthcare coverage guaranteed or compulsory, respectively. Both have limited the profit-incentive of care providers, thereby making their per-capita expenditures much lower than the United States. On the other hand, prices for medical services are poorly-regulated in the U.S. systems and insurance companies reap profits beyond the imagination of the public eye. As a consequence, healthcare expenditures and medical bankruptcy rates are the highest in the United States. Despite these high costs, not everyone can access basic healthcare services, thereby making our current system largely unsuccessful relative (at least in terms of population coverage) to other developed nations.

Many who subscribe to Benedictine values might be more appreciative of NYC’s efforts than others. For instance, guaranteeing universal healthcare can be ascribed to the idea of the  “Common Good.”  Bringing healthcare to the impoverished has the potential to reduce overall healthcare expenditures by offsetting costs associated with the over-utilization of emergency services, while also ensuring a basic need to many. In other words, there is an emphasis on collective fiscal responsibility and equality.

As an aspiring physician, I also believe that access to healthcare, including access to primary care physicians, should be a basic right for everyone, regardless of one’s ability to pay. Much like housing, food, and education, healthcare should be viewed as a necessity if we want to ensure a high standard of living to all of the United States’ residents. Given the success of universal healthcare in other countries, both financially and in healthcare outcomes, I think that the U.S. would certainly benefit from adopting this model. However, extensive problems remain in our healthcare system, as our given structure has been made rigid by policies and aversive to centralization. As such, we must reconsider our laws and how we can change them accordingly to approach universal healthcare. I also believe that we must reconsider how we spend our budget so that universal health care would be prioritized over other national interests. Once we can resolve the existing conflicts found among our politicians, we can move forward with a conversation on how to improve our healthcare system’s ability to serve all individuals living in the U.S.