I mentioned this in my Debate #2 liveblog, but I thought I’d highlight the attitude towards health care access on display by the candidates. Tom Brokaw asked the candidates whether access to health care was “a privilege, a right, or a responsibility”.
Currently, access to health care is a privilege. I work at a community college, and I have met plenty of folks who simply cannot obtain preventative care, treatments for illnesses that are not immediately life-threatening, etc. That’s disgusting. (I’ve talked about this before on the blog.) And it says something about our collective morality that we would allow this to be the case. We don’t get to use “we can’t afford to provide our citizens with access to medical care” as an excuse, since financing doesn’t seem to stop other industrialized countries from providing access.
So, what did the candidates say? Here’s McCain.
I think it’s a responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member. And with the plan that — that I have, that will do that.
But government mandates I — I’m always a little nervous about. But it is certainly my responsibility. It is certainly small-business people and others, and they understand that responsibility. American citizens understand that. Employers understand that.
So, it’s a “responsibility” for society that we ensure access to care. He can’t bear to come out and say that it should be a right, because that implies that the government (and his administration) would be held accountable for protecting that right. He immediately says that he’s uncomfortable with the government making sure access to care is available – transitioning to fear-mongering about “mandates”. I suppose access to care for other Americans is an optional “responsibility”?
Compare to Obama’s answer.
Well, I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills — for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.
While I don’t think Obama’s health care plan is nearly ambitious enough, I like it that he gets that access to health care in the twenty-first century should be considered a basic right. One that our nation has a moral obligation to protect.