The economic and social impacts of healthcare as a right

The only thing more costly in lives and dollars than ill health is gross ignorance. Donald Boudreaux's Oct. 17 Opinion piece, "The way to better, cheaper healthcare: Don't make it a human right," demonstrates such ignorance.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists basic healthcare as an inalienable right. And health is a prerequisite to our own nation's political promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Making healthcare a right in the US will cost money. But given the financial and human cost of not providing healthcare, it's foolish not to.

Genocidal governments killed about 160 million people worldwide in the 20th century. In only 70 years of that century, smallpox alone killed more than 300 million. Nearly 20 million people die annually today because of governments' failure to provide healthcare.

Government health funding is an extremely wise investment. The US spent $32 million on the global smallpox eradication effort. We were spending $150 million a year vaccinating our own children before that (in 1980 prices). According to a 1997 GAO report, our one-time global investment saved American taxpayers over $17 billion in domestic healthcare costs. Boudreaux's idea is foolish, lethal, and expensive.
Chuck Woolery
Rockville, Md.
Editorial Board, World Hunger Education Service

Donald Boudreaux's Oct. 17 Opinion piece on the problem of making healthcare a right points to a serious problem that already exists with our present healthcare system: the use of insurance to pay for medical costs. Most use insurance, and among those who do, a small minority is responsible for a bulk of the money spent on healthcare.

In other words, health insurance differs little in its impact on prices from "guaranteed healthcare." Those who overuse insurance have no incentive to stop because they aren't paying the entire cost of their bill.

As long as people do not pay out of pocket, then the primary consumers of healthcare will not demand of doctors and hospitals lower costs for their services, and the inflation in healthcare cost that we all lament will continue unabated. If we want to know what happens when people think they have a "right" to healthcare, we don't have to use our imaginations. The failures of America's present system are rooted precisely in the way the health-insurance system gives people that right. Politicians who call for universal insurance are calling for a disaster.
Jason Keuter
Pisa, Italy

In his Oct. 17 Opinion piece on healthcare, why does Donald Boudreaux – and others who regard the marketplace as the ultimate guarantor of quality and cost for everything – insist on such a myopic and inappropriate framing of this major national failure? The analogy used is pathetic. While people require both food and healthcare to live, that is where the similarity ends. We eat several times a day and make split-second decisions about what to consume or buy.

Medical care is a far different situation, and other than medicine, we do not consume healthcare three times a day. Other nations who handle this matter more effectively and humanely have long since risen above such a limited perspective.

This country is low on the scale of developed nations in terms of access to quality healthcare. Forcing the notion that people who need medical care are consumers in a market is hardly the most productive way of approaching such a serious problem.
Tom Herz
San Francisco

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