Is Health Care A Right? Or a Privilege?

Adapted from my upcoming book: Your Money AND Your Life, coming Fall 2017.

In 1992, Dr. Kathryn Anastos was quoted as saying:

“It is unconscionable that we ration health care by the ability to pay… Health care should be a given.”

She’s not alone in her opinion. Even today, politicians, activists, and even physicians on the Left claim that health care is a fundamental right, that should be guaranteed to all by our government. This underlies the concept of socialized medicine, where the state becomes the provider of health care to the entire population.

These liberal progressives also make the point that anyone who opposes their idea of health care being a right, must view it as a privilege. In other words, reserved only for those lucky few who can afford to pay for it.

So which label is correct? Is health care a right? Or is it a privilege?

Actually, it’s neither. And to prove my point, let’s compare this philosophy to how we view some of life’s basic needs.

When I was in grade school, I remember being taught about three things that are essential for living: food, water, and shelter.

Never were truer words spoken. We have to have food and water to survive, and without shelter we would be exposed to the dangers of the elements, wild animals, and our fellow humans intent on doing harm.

And yet, none of these essentials is considered a right.

Our founding documents do establish a number of rights, such as to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; to the freedom of speech and of religion; and the right to bear arms. But nowhere did the framers mention the right to eat, the right to drink, or the right to housing.

Don’t keep up with your rent or mortgage? You can be legally evicted.

Ignore the water bill? The local utility company will come to your house and shut it off.

Likewise, I don’t know of any grocery stores or restaurants that would accept “It’s my right to eat!” as a form of payment.

While it’s true that the government does assist the elderly, the poor, and the disabled in obtaining these basic necessities, these programs don’t apply to everyone. To receive such state assistance, one must first qualify by meeting certain criteria.

So there is no right to have food, water, or shelter, and even most liberals stop short of saying that it is the responsibility of the government to provide them to everyone.

But does that mean that they are privileges? Hardly.

A privilege can be defined as a “special right or advantage, available only to a particular group of people.”

Clearly, there is no privileged group of Americans who are the only ones that can find food, water, or shelter; the majority of us are able to eat, drink, and live comfortably, without any financial help from the government whatsoever.

So if some of our most basic needs are neither rights – nor privileges – then what exactly are they?

They are necessities, and nothing more. Because we need them to live.

Not so with health care, though. Unlike food, water, or shelter, health care is not a necessity. Health care may be able to make us healthier, alleviate pain and suffering, and prolong life, but it isn’t essential on a day-to-day, or even routine basis.

In fact, I’ve met many Americans who’ve gone for years, decades, and sometimes most of their lives without receiving any professional health care.

But if health care isn’t absolutely necessary for life, then why is it even spoken of in terms of being a right, vs a privilege?

Because it’s a great platform for big government proponents on the Left to take a moral stance, and promote their agenda by claiming that only the government can fix our broken health care system.

Calling health care a right also sets up a false argument against conservatives: anyone who opposes the idea of “health care for all,” must take the cruel and heartless stance that health care is deserved only by a few.

Except our system, even as it exists now belies that theory. Just as the elderly, the poor, and the disabled receive help in obtaining their food, water, and shelter, so do we have massive government programs in place to assist them with – health care.

A lot of it. In fact, over 1/3 of Americans with health insurance get their coverage through the government, and these programs pay for virtually all of those recipients’ health care.

Yet by claiming that health care is a right, liberals seek to extend this government-funded – and thus government controlled – health insurance to cover most, if not all citizens.

There’s no need to, however. Because health care isn’t a privilege. Nor is it a right.

Health care is simply a service industry, like many others.

When the framers of our Constitution enumerated their list of unalienable rights, Thomas Jefferson said it best: the government’s role is “to secure these Rights,” and not to create new ones.

Including, the misguided notion of there being a right to health care.

It’s not the COSTS of health care that are outrageous…it’s the CHARGES.

Physician. Health Insurance Agent. Author. Health care humorist. Medical satirist. Disruptor. At your service. My name is Kevin Wacasey, and I’ve been practicing medicine since 1994. When I graduated from medical school, I took an oath to do no harm to my patients. To me, that includes financial harm. But since health insurance took over health care over 40 years ago, health care prices have skyrocketed. And despite what we’re told by the media every day, it isn’t the costs of health care that are outrageous; it’s the charges. So if you’ve ever wondered why we spend so much on health insurance and health care, then come along and join me as I explore the crazy world of Healthcareonomics. Health care doesn’t have to be expensive. Let me show you how. For speaking opportunities and to pass along your questions/comments, please email me at

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  1. Roger Koch

    Enjoyed reading your article!
    I think you meant: *there being a right to health care (at the end).
    Best Wishes & Good Health

  2. Matthew

    So what was it like forty years ago?

    I don’t know if heart transplants were possible back then, but I’m using this example since the movie, “John Q.” is a popular film about a couple in need of one for their son.

    Before healthcare came around, and if hypothetically speaking, heart transplants were around, how could a family in the lower class pay for it?. And without charges, either today or back then, how much would an invasive surgery like that cost?

    • “Before healthcare came around…” You mean, health insurance. You’re talking about health insurance.

      And a heart transplant is exactly why it is a very smart thing to have health insurance. Or if one develops a chronic condition like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which leaves them totally unable to move and requiring lifelong ventilatory and nutritional support. Or if one should get hit by a train, as I say in my first book.

      But health insurance isn’t necessary to pay for the vast majority of health care, which can be had at substantially reduced prices if one opts to just pay out-of-pocket. MRI’s that are charged thousands of dollars if filed through health insurance, but can be bought for just a few hundred dollars in cash. Lab work that is billed over $1,000 that becomes less than $150 if charged to a credit card.

      I am not anti-health insurance. Rather, I am anti-health insurance being in control of all things health care. And your choice of words illustrates perfectly how the health insurance industry maintains a grip on our nation’s health – health care “came around” the first time one caveman broke another’s skull open with a rock, to release the demons inside the afflicted patient’s head.

      Health insurance, on the other hand, is a solidly 20th century invention which unfortunately has ruined the health of far, far more people, than it has helped. All in the name of profit.

      And by the way, to the point of my post there is no “right” to health care listed in the Constitution of the United States. Check for yourself, and you’ll see. But if left-leaning liberals want to go on screaming that health care is a right, then they first need to establish one outright, in the Constitution. There is a process to amend that document.

    • Kevin

      Healthcare has always existed with payment in cash or trade.
      Health insurance may be what you refer to.

  3. Argante

    I like your point about how both sides of the rights v privilege debate are arguing about the wrong thing. Very insightful. The reference to the constitution at the end, although dramatic, is not compelling as an argument. The founding fathers had their input when they wrote the constitution; they don’t have to live in and could never have foreseen the society we live in today. They’re dead, they had their turn. Our constitution, laws, policies, and government services are a living system that need to become — not what they were “intended” to be — but what they SHOULD be. The debate about our health care system is about our future and what societal structure we want to have for ourselves and our heirs. I would prefer something more forward thinking for your conclusion.
    Thanks for the thoughtful article!

    • syzito

      The constitution is not a “living document” as you propose ; to be so destroys its meaning. The constitution wasn’t written to change with everyone opinions of what it should mean. It means what it says period.

  4. Brian Fitch

    Dr. Wacasey,
    I enjoyed your article and very much enjoyed your recent appearance on Daniel Horowitz’s podcast. I agree with pretty much everything you say and would love to see you reach a broader audience. I do however disagree with how you are handling rights, which is causing cracks in the truth you generally espouse. While your definition rights is reasonable, how you operationalize rights is flawed. Our rights come from God and it is the responsibility of government to protect our rights as layed out in our founding documents. In order to be a right, the “thing” in question must not oblige someone else. There is no right to healthcare because to grant that would force someone else to provide that healthcare, or whatever product or service being discussed. Compelling another person to give/provide something to another mitigates against the liberty and freedom of another. People are allowed to enter into agreements/contracts that they negotiate and find mutually beneficial. Obtaining a good or service is immoral and not a right if we enslave another or steal their time and/or resources to do so. This is why food and shelter are not rights. Nor is any type of marriage or a job. Privilege speaks to having something that provides an advantage in obtaining good and services. Privlege has nothing to do with rights. Privlege can be natually obtained (being 7 feet tall and athletic gives you an advantage inbeing able to play in the NBA and earn a lot of money), or earned (working very hard to earn good grades, graduate from college and get a high paying job.) we must as a society be ok with different outcomes as it is immoral to try to equalize outcomes; plus socialism which is what this would be called cannot work. Government can and does on occasion incentivize charity. Govenment doing this is a form of slavery. Our constitution is a social
    compact where we agreed to a very limited level of support from our government to corporately protect out rights. Charity must come private citizens or organizations. The federal government cannot and should not provide charity.

  5. Frank

    Government usurpations always cost a multiple of gains propagandized.

    No hope in socialsm.

  6. Greg Kramp

    So do away with insurance. And if we want people to give people healthcare have them buy it themselves. In the same way people are given food stamps which only works for food they might be given a government paid for HSA to pay medical bills?

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