Member Perspective: Is Health Care A Right?

by Catherine Collingwood

The American Solidarity Party’s platform refers to universal health care as a right. That’s quite the assertion, and it’s not a universal American belief. After all, why should the services of health-care providers—who spend an enormous amount of time and money developing their skills—be something that all people can demand for any reason, regardless of whether they can pay a fair price?

It’s a valid question. There’s an equally valid answer. In fact, there are two of them.

The first reason is rooted not in the ASP’s platform but rather in the United States’ own founding documents. The Declaration of Independence clearly states that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are fundamental human rights. We find this same idea in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Consider the nature of disease itself: even the common cold often challenges our pursuit of happiness. It saps our energy, often proves costly, and undermines our social contribution. In fact, a 2002 National Institutes of Health study showed that the common cold accounts for nearly $25 billion annually in direct and indirect costs to the economy. Based on the 2002 population, that translates to approximately $87 per American—or more than two full days of minimum-wage pay—regardless of age, social status, or ability to work.

If the cost of a cold is so high, consider how much more expensive a complex condition like heart disease or cancer will be. What happens then to the “pursuit of happiness”? Shouldn’t our work contribute toward realizing our full potential instead of just trying to overcome the costs of a health condition we didn’t choose?

We should also consider that human dignity and the whole-life approach mean that people are much more than mere economic units. The ASP was “founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

A Google search on human dignity in health-care environments returns more results than any one person could ever read. Left untreated (or inadequately treated), many health conditions threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the human person. Treatments aren’t always that much better, but they at least carry the hope of restoring health to the person who receives them.

This leads us to the second reason, the one that’s related to the ASP’s platform: if human dignity is an inherent right, we have to include universal access to health care in that right. That applies even for those who might not have the economic means to pay for it.

Without access to affordable health care, a person’s life is adversely affected and can even be cut short. That’s definitely not realizing that person’s full potential and can’t be reconciled with the idea of a whole-life approach. In fact, that’s why the ASP promotes a plethora of ideas concerning universal health care: everything from single-payer initiatives to direct primary-care programs.

In addition, given that the Declaration of Independence states that the government has a duty to protect fundamental rights, it follows that ensuring universal health-care access is the government’s job. We might debate which level of government bears the primary responsibility for this duty, and we can also debate how we should go about doing it, but the ultimate goal remains ending “exploitation of the captive audience of patients.” Providing universal health-care access is a critical step in ensuring that all Americans have the freedom and respect they deserve.

Catherine Collingwood has worked with group health insurance plans since 1999, both as a compensation and benefits specialist in an HR office, and in her current position as a group life and health agent/account manager. Her personal blog is located at

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