Issues in Healthcare: Arguments for Healthcare as a Right or Privilege (2023)

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The debate in the United States over whether or not healthcare is a right or a privilege has been raging for over a century. Do all U.S. citizens have a right to access healthcare, regardless of their position in a free market system? Or, as healthcare services are a limited resource requiring money to operate, is access to healthcare just like every other commodity—a privilege reserved for those who are competitive in the free market?

As there is real-life evidence to support both outlooks, the debate over whether healthcare is a right or a privilege ultimately is a values-based debate. Where someone stands on this debate comes down to how they view rights, the role they believe the government has in enforcing these rights, whether or not they believe healthcare is something every individual deserves, and whether they believe we are connected or separate.

Keep reading to learn more about the fundamental questions we must ask ourselves as individuals and what our nation must answer as a collective to come to a consensus around whether or not healthcare is a right or a privilege.

Positive Rights vs. Negative Rights

When the healthcare debate rages, one of the dialectics that fuels the debate is the semantic meaning of the word “rights.” While we all have a generalized sense of what this means—something we are entitled to simply because we exist—the debates over healthcare arise from differing ideas regarding how rights are idealized and from these idealizations: how they should be enforced.

Parties who believe that healthcare is a right often operate from the rhetoric of positive rights, whereas those who believe health care is a privilege often operate from the rhetoric of negative rights.

Those who see healthcare as a privilege will often use the rhetoric of negative rights. In a negative-rights framework, rights are restraints on actions rather than an obligation to act. In the case of the constitutional decree that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, a negative rights outlook would mean that you have no obligation to help another person to attain life, liberty, or happiness—but you do have a duty not to get in their way.

In the case of healthcare, those who believe in a negative rights framework believe that you cannot have healthcare as a right because it places a positive obligation on others to provide access through the nonconsensual surrender of income to the state. From a negative rights perspective, the only duty or obligation we have to one another in regard to healthcare is not to threaten choice or bar access, but we should not be forced to contribute to the care of others.

Parties who see rights from this perspective believe that helping with healthcare needs to be voluntary (i.e., free-market decisions or healthcare charities run on voluntary donations). The government’s role in healthcare is to protect this individual’s right to choose. Simply put, in a negative rights framework, healthcare can be available through the mechanisms of a free market system, but it is not a right.

Those who advocate greater governmental responsibility in healthcare are often working from a positive rights perspective—a framework where a positive duty is imposed on us to sustain the welfare of those in need.

There is a major global consensus that health—and all the circumstances that mediate health—is a fundamental human right (see the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the World Health Organization’s Constitution). Healthcare is often a necessary tool for the attainment of access to health and, from a positive rights perspective, it is something that should be provided to everyone, whether or not they can participate meaningfully in a free market system.

From this point of view, marginalized populations who struggle to find adequate work or cannot work (e.g., the young, the poor, the elderly, those with debilitating chronic diseases, the disabled) should have a right to healthcare. In this framework, it is the government’s duty to ensure that the conditions that mediate fundamental human rights are attainable, regardless of the lottery of the birth. Therefore, the government has a right to impose taxes that will help those for whom the free market system imposes an undue burden.

In a positive rights framework, healthcare is a tool to attain the basic human right of health, and it is the duty of the people to ensure access to it.

Does Everyone Deserve Healthcare?

As a result of an unequal system of healthcare that began during World War II, the idea of healthcare as a basic entitlement that we all contribute to—much like clean water, garbage collection, roads, etc.—has experienced a complete breakdown in American cultural consciousness.

In linking health insurance to employment and thereby intrinsically linking access to care to employment, the U.S. became the land of an inequitable system whereby different people with varying circumstances became subject to different rules for healthcare. This history is integral to the way we speak about whether or not people deserve healthcare.

For parties who believe that healthcare is a privilege, one of the key beliefs is that rights do not distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving. Within this framework, narratives of self-reliance and hard work are key rhetorical cornerstones. Those who do not believe healthcare is a right often assert that work is the key that opens the door to healthcare all throughout the lifecycle. Earning money, saving for health, and choosing employment with health coverage is what hardworking, self-reliant individuals should do in their productive working years to ensure access to the privilege of healthcare for themselves and for their children.

As these individuals work, they pay into Medicare, and this is the system that ensures that hardworking, self-reliant individuals will retain access to health care when they are no longer capable of work.

For those who are working hard and earning wages that do not cover the cost of healthcare, access to government assistance or charity is an earned privilege. However, from this point of view, those who are not productive members of society do not deserve access to care—nor to collective pools of money paid into by those who are productive. Supporting those who cannot contribute is seen as detrimental to the system, opening the door for abuse of the system.

Parties that believe healthcare is a right tend to use rhetorical frameworks that demonstrate all lives have equal value and that access to healthcare for all is necessary for a prosperous society.

Because of these centralized beliefs, those who believe that everyone deserves healthcare argue that it should not be linked to one’s capacities to work. There are many people who—through no fault of their own—are born with physical or mental disorders that bar them from work and many who, despite having some productive years, develop chronic conditions that prohibit them from working.

There are also those who do work—like the estimated 35 percent of the adult workforce in the United States who are in the gig economy—who do not have access to healthcare because of lack of access to employer coverage. Those who believe healthcare is a right state that investing in the health of all these people is essential because, with healthcare, these humans have the capacity to live up to their greatest potentials and may contribute to our communities in a way that cannot always be measured within a framework of contribution to a GDP.

Overall, supporting those who cannot work can lead to abuses in the system, but this is a small price to pay for opening the door to all citizens to live up to their greatest human potential.

Are We Separate or Connected?

Ultimately, all the questions that come before connect to one penultimate question around whether our fates are connected or if they are separate.

Those who believe healthcare is a right utilize the rhetoric of the connected. What impacts one of us impacts all of us—both in the realm of the negative and the in the realm of the positive. Healthcare, therefore, needs to be a right because if the most vulnerable member of our society is not cared for, it means that we—as a collective—are not cared for.

The real-world implications of this are seen in a healthcare system that is the most expensive, least effective, and least accessible in the western world. Those who see healthcare as a right argue that improving access to healthcare saves us money, heals people, and creates a more engaged citizenry.

Those who believe healthcare is a privilege utilize the rhetoric of the separate. It is the belief that we have a duty only to our own freedoms and to reap the benefits of the work we have done. Being forced to use what we have earned against our will to help another is akin to theft.

By putting the responsibility for healthcare on the shoulders of the individuals in need, we will ultimately save money because prices will become more competitive, and the citizenry will become more engaged if they wish for healing. They believe that our healthcare system is the most expensive and least effective in the western world because there is too much assistance on which people are becoming dependent.

In Conclusion: Is Healthcare a Right or a Privilege?

The debate over whether healthcare is a right or a privilege has more questions than answers—and the answers to these questions are not straightforward. If they were, this debate wouldn’t have a century-old history. What individuals believe about healthcare comes down to a complex mixture of:

  • Life experience – Did they have a work-ending condition?
  • Values – Do all human lives have equal value?
  • Ideologies – Are rights negative or positive?

When debating in the realm of ideals, it is challenging to come to a conclusion as the values underlying the belief are often antithetical and irreconcilable. This begs one more question: can we come up with a system of healthcare that blends both ideologies so that we can move into a healthcare system that costs less, is more effective, and is a win-win for our ideals and the health of our citizenry?

Issues in Healthcare: Arguments for Healthcare as a Right or Privilege (1)

Becca Brewer


Becca Brewer is building a better future on a thriving earth by healing herself into wholeness, divesting from separation, and walking the path of the loving heart. Previously to her journey as an adventurer for a just, meaningful, and regenerative world, Becca was a formally trained sexuality educator with a master of education.


Issues in Healthcare: Arguments for Healthcare as a Right or Privilege? ›

Health care is a right not a privilege. When you or a loved one is ill or injured you should have access to a doctor, medication and treatment.

Is healthcare a right or a privilege argument? ›

Health care is a right not a privilege. When you or a loved one is ill or injured you should have access to a doctor, medication and treatment.

Why should healthcare be a right and not a privilege? ›

Those who believe healthcare is a right state that investing in the health of all these people is essential because, with healthcare, these humans have the capacity to live up to their greatest potentials and may contribute to our communities in a way that cannot always be measured within a framework of contribution to ...

What are the three major issues in healthcare? ›

The biggest challenges for healthcare executives and decision-makers
  • Challenge 1: Financial limitations. ...
  • Challenge 2: Availability of a skilled workforce. ...
  • Challenge 3: Implementing new technology.
Oct 5, 2021

What are the arguments for access to healthcare? ›

Universal health care would lower costs and prevent medical bankruptcy. A June 2022 study found the United States could have saved $105.6 billion in COVID-19 (coronavirus) hospitalization costs with single-payer universal health care during the pandemic.

Is healthcare a positive or negative right? ›

Positive rights, by contrast, obligate you either to provide goods to others, or pay taxes that are used for redistributive purposes. Health care falls into the category of positive rights since its provision by the government requires taxation and therefore redistribution.

Is healthcare a human rights issue? ›

The WHO Constitution (1946) envisages “…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” Acknowledging health as a human right recognizes a legal obligation on states to ensure access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care.

What does privilege mean in healthcare? ›

Privileged Health Care Provider

Privileged providers include physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certain other medical professionals with credentials that allow independent diagnosis or treatment of specific medical conditions.

Who said healthcare is a right not a privilege? ›

Rod Blagojevich Quotes

Health care is not a privilege. It's a right. It's a right as fundamental as civil rights. It's a right as fundamental as giving every child a chance to get a public education.

Why healthcare should not be free for everyone? ›

Free healthcare will make people care less about their health. When financial coverage is provided to people, they mostly ignore their health. For instance, neglect the importance of eating healthy, staying fit, and taking proper precautions, and will adopt an unhealthy lifestyle that eventually harms them.

What is the biggest issue in healthcare? ›

The High Cost of Health Care

The problem: Perhaps the most pressing issue in health care currently is the high cost of care. More than 45% of American adults say it's difficult to afford health care, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and more than 40% have medical debt.

What are examples of healthcare issues? ›

Top 10 Most Common Health Issues
  • Physical Activity and Nutrition.
  • Overweight and Obesity.
  • Tobacco.
  • Substance Abuse.
  • Mental Health.
  • Injury and Violence.
  • Environmental Quality.

What is the biggest health issues and concerns? ›

Top public health problems for the modern age
  • Heart disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Unintentional injuries.
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases.
  • Stroke.
  • Alzheimer's disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Influenza and pneumonia.

Why is health care to access a problem in the US? ›

High cost is the primary reason that prevents Americans from accessing health care services. Americans with below-average incomes are much more affected, since visiting a physician when sick, getting a recommended test, or follow-up care has become unaffordable.

Why is lack of access to healthcare important? ›

Potential health effects of low health care access include poor management of chronic disease, increased burden due to preventable diseases and disability, and premature death.

What are positive rights in healthcare? ›

Positive rights, therefore, are rights that provide something that people need to secure their well being, such as a right to an education, the right to food, the right to medical care, the right to housing, or the right to a job.

Why do you think healthcare is a right? ›

The right to health for all people means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need.

What are negative rights in healthcare? ›

Negative rights permit or oblige inaction. In this case, society has the right to my inaction with regard to my own health care. In other words, in some cases when a positive right is created the individual must accept it.

What are examples of human rights violations in healthcare? ›

Here are some examples:
  • Understaffing (considered a primary cause of patient rights violations).
  • Failure to provide quality care and proper nursing services.
  • Failure to adequately educate patients and help them make informed decisions about their treatment plans.
Jan 9, 2023

What are the pros and cons of free healthcare? ›

Here are a few pros and cons of universal healthcare.
  • PRO: Make It Easier for Patients to Seek Treatment. ...
  • CON: Doctors Have Less Flexibility in Negotiating Rates. ...
  • Must Read: What Does Universal Healthcare Means for Medical Practices. ...
  • PRO: It Could Increase Demand for Medical Services.
Mar 5, 2020

What are three human rights issues? ›

Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

What is least privilege healthcare? ›

The main concept behind the principle of least privilege is to limit access to something (anything) to keep it secure. When used with an organization's cybersecurity, that means giving employees the least amount of data needed to do their job.

What are the two 2 types of privileges? ›

Administrator privileges control creation of objects and system administration. Object privileges control access to specific database objects.

What are the three types of privilege? ›

There are three types of privilege that we will examine in depth: 1) Solicitor-client privilege; 2) Litigation privilege; and 3) Settlement privilege.

Is healthcare a right of all individuals? ›

The American Academy of Family Physicians recognizes health as a basic human right for every person regardless of social, economic or political status, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The right to health includes universal access to timely, high quality, and affordable essential health care services.

Why should healthcare be free? ›

Improving the economy. Providing free healthcare would have an enormous impact on the economy. Many people do not work because they have health conditions which they cannot afford to fix. A country with free healthcare would have a stronger economy than those with pricey healthcare.

Why is healthcare important? ›

High-quality health care helps prevent diseases and improve quality of life. Healthy People 2030 focuses on improving health care quality and making sure all people get the health care services they need. Helping health care providers communicate more effectively can help improve health and well-being.

What are the problems with free healthcare? ›

Other disadvantages of universal health care include:
  • More government control in individual health care. ...
  • Longer wait times to access elective procedures, and funds are focused on essential health care services for the population.
  • The substantial cost for the government.
Aug 10, 2020

What are the top three challenges to universal healthcare? ›

Findings: The challenges were identified and discussed under five broad findings: i) weak public health care systems ii) challenges to building resilient health systems, iii) health care financing and financial risk protection, iv) epidemiological and demographic challenges, and v) governance and leadership.

How does not having free healthcare affect people? ›

Studies repeatedly demonstrate that uninsured people are less likely than those with insurance to receive preventive care and services for major health conditions and chronic diseases. What are the financial implications of being uninsured? The uninsured often face unaffordable medical bills when they do seek care.

What are the top 5 ethical issues in healthcare? ›

5 Ethical Issues in Healthcare
  • Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders. ...
  • Doctor and Patient Confidentiality. ...
  • Malpractice and Negligence. ...
  • Access to Care. ...
  • Physician-Assisted Suicide.

How is healthcare a social issue? ›

Social issues in healthcare refer to health issues that a person or group of people will need to evaluate due to their unique situation, which includes their personal beliefs, values, and traditions. Because each person is so different, they will approach healthcare differently.

What problems should be solved in healthcare? ›

Top 5 Administrative Healthcare Problems & Solutions In 2021
  • Lack Of Real-time Situation Management. ...
  • Ineffective Internal Communication. ...
  • Lack Of System Interoperability. ...
  • Information Overload. ...
  • Data Security.
Apr 14, 2023

How can we improve healthcare in the US? ›

Combined, they provide steps on a path that can lead to a much healthier America.
  1. Focus on Improving Health. ...
  2. Tackle Racial Disparities. ...
  3. Expand Telehealth and In-Home Hospital Services. ...
  4. Build Integrated Systems. ...
  5. Adopt Value-Based Care.
Dec 15, 2021

What is an example of a political issue currently facing healthcare? ›

One political issue currently facing healthcare is the cost of prescription drugs. In the US, the cost of prescription drugs has been rising significantly in recent years, leading to many Americans struggling to afford the medications they need.

What is the #1 leading health problem? ›

Heart disease and stroke still the leading causes of death for both U.S. men and women.

What is the most common health problem today? ›

Heart disease encompasses many heart conditions, including heart valve disease, heart infection, disease of the heart muscle, congenital heart defects, heart rhythm issues, coronary artery disease, and more. Some heart problems are genetic and cannot be avoided, while others are preventable.

What are the most common health issues in us? ›

The 10 Most Common Health Conditions in the United States
  • Heart Disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases (asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis)
  • Obesity.
  • Alzheimer's Disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Substance Abuse.
  • Influenza and Pneumonia.
Aug 23, 2022

What are the 7 health disparities? ›

Health and health care disparities are often viewed through the lens of race and ethnicity, but they occur across a broad range of dimensions. For example, disparities occur across socioeconomic status, age, geography, language, gender, disability status, citizenship status, and sexual identity and orientation.

What are the 4 barriers to accessing health services? ›

These barriers can be grouped into four main categories:
  • Cost.
  • Discrimination and bias.
  • Access.
  • Health literacy and language barriers.
Nov 11, 2022

When did access to healthcare become a problem? ›

In the 1950s, the price of hospital care doubled. Now in the early 1960s, those outside the workplace, especially the elderly, have difficulty affording insurance.

Why is healthcare a social justice issue? ›

Factors such as education, employment, socioeconomic status, and environment can affect an individual's access to health care. Health care administrators should be aware of individuals and groups that have been historically marginalized and are currently vulnerable to inequality in health care.

What is an example of unequal access to healthcare? ›

A few examples are illustrative: infant mortality for black babies remains nearly 2.5 times higher than for white babies; the life expectancy for black men and women remains at nearly 1 decade fewer years of life compared with their white counterparts; diabetes rates are more than 30% higher among Native Americans and ...

Should healthcare be accessible to everyone? ›

As a matter of human dignity, everyone is entitled to health care. Like any basic element of life, health care sustains us and should always be accessible and affordable for everyone — where they need it, when they need it, no exceptions and no interruptions. The consequences of being uninsured are significant.

What are some gaps in healthcare? ›

What is a gap in care?
  • A person is overdue for a recommended screening – like an annual mammogram, colonoscopy, or well visit – based on their age or other risk factors.
  • A person doesn't follow the recommendations for taking a prescription medication to manage a specific condition like diabetes.

Is healthcare a right in America? ›

Many nations specifically include a right to health or a right to health care in their Constitution. The United States does not (although people in government custody have a constitutional right to some health care).

What is the liberal argument of healthcare? ›

Elements of the liberal health care perspective include a belief that health care is an equal right of all people, the implementation of that right through a social insurance system that provides universal health coverage, equitable financing of health care, and a commitment to equality in health care.

Why is free healthcare not a right? ›

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights claims that everyone has a right to health care. Of course, there's no such thing as free health care. The government has no money of its own which means that it cannot “give” anyone health care without first taking away something from someone else.

Should healthcare be a human right in the US? ›

Health is not a commodity; it is a right. There are rights to which we are entitled, simply by virtue of our humanity. Human rights exist independent of our culture, religion, race, nationality, or economic status. Only by the free exercise of those rights can we enjoy a life of dignity.

Is access to healthcare an issue in the United States? ›

Many people in the United States don't get the health care services they need. Healthy People 2030 focuses on improving health by helping people get timely, high-quality health care services. About 1 in 10 people in the United States don't have health insurance.

What are some arguments on why healthcare should not be free? ›

Here are a few arguments against government-based health care.
  • Keeping costs down may reduce the standard of care. ...
  • Lack of competition within the health care industry. ...
  • Government-run health care means waiting lists. ...
  • Citizens may need to buy private insurance anyway.

Why is healthcare a controversial issue? ›

Health coverage is among the most intensely debated subjects in American life, both because of the generally high cost of healthcare expenses, and because access to coverage varies significantly based on employment and socioeconomic status.

What are controversial debate topics in healthcare? ›

Clinical topics commonly considered controversial include abortion and other aspects of reproductive health; end-of-life and palliative care matters, including physician-assisted dying; LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer [or questioning], intersex, asexual) care; elements of addiction medicine and ...


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