Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of 'Free' Health Care

     Americans are obsessed with rights. We always have been.

     But the concept of rights our forefathers laid out in the Declaration of Independence has changed dramatically. Those rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – were acknowledged to come from the Almighty, given equally to all people. Today’s rights come from Almighty Government.

     Health care is the newest “right.” From presidential candidates’ universal plans to the return of HillaryCare to Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko,” it’s all over the media.

     Calling it a “right” is an emotional argument advanced by those who want others to pay for their health care. They bring out the children and ask whether anyone can deny them the “basic human right” of health care – but don’t bother with the evidence showing how health care in this country would be harmed by government control.  

     A look at other modern “rights” might give us a clue about how well a new system would work. These rights started out as privileges, among them education and a paid retirement.

     Now education is not only considered a right, it’s a mandate. How well has it worked? American students attend school at least until their teen years, but 15-year-olds ranked 24th out of 29 countries in aptitude for “real-life math problems,” according to The Washington Post. Literacy surveys suggest one in five American adults is functionally illiterate. And taxpayers keep shelling out money to fund the system.

     Americans also cherish the right to retire – but we expect to be supported in our old age. Younger workers and employers are forced to support retirees, funding another right.

     And how well has that worked? The poorly designed, outdated Social Security system is disintegrating rapidly as the number of retirees balloons. But once you’ve established a right, it’s difficult to take it away. The government, which promises such rights, must go to its sugar daddy – taxpayers – to keep the rights coming.

     We’re already well on our way toward the health care right/mandate. Want to be more like Canada? It’s not that far off. Cato’s Michael Cannon has pointed out that third parties in America pay 86 cents of every dollar of our health care – about the same as Canada’s socialized system.

     What we – or rather, those third parties – pay for health care is already determined by the government as well. Emory University medical professor Robert Swerlick has noted that “the pricing of medical care in this country is either directly or indirectly dictated by Medicare.” This market meddling even causes doctor shortages, he says, in needed areas of specialty.

     Prescription drugs are already considered a right, thanks to political moves like the Medicare drug benefit and massive media support. A Business & Media Institute study found broadcast journalists treating prescription drugs as though they grew on trees. Overall, the coverage supported the idea that medications should magically be available to everyone at far lower costs.

     Of course, the magic behind new “rights” is your money.

     Cannon and fellow Cato expert Michael Tanner explained problems with tax-funded care in their book “Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.” If health care is guaranteed to everyone, how much does everyone get? Who decides who receives what, and how would the care be administered? What happens if everyone wants the most expensive treatment available?

      “With the wide variety of medical tests and treatments that consumers may claim as their right, someone at some point must decide where the right to health care ends, lest the nation be bankrupted,” they wrote.

     We’re well on our way toward that as well. Our “rights” to Social Security and Medicare devour about 40 percent of the federal budget. State and local property tax revenue, which normally funds education, mushroomed about 35 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to the Tax Foundation. We can’t afford any more “rights” like that.

     But the left says tax-funded care is right for the children. Meanwhile, what becomes of them? They’re growing up in an America where the “rights” mentality is deeply ingrained, and the media continue to feed them with it.

     When the children come of age, perhaps they’ll want the right to a job. They won’t remember that France already tested that idea for us, and it led to high unemployment and rioting. Perhaps they’ll guarantee Disney vacations for all families and force childless Americans to pay for it. “The pursuit of” will conveniently fade away as they look to government to guarantee happiness.

     They will know less and less of a true right – liberty – and have no idea where it comes from.

Amy Menefee is deputy editor with the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.