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An Unalienable Right to Healthcare

June 29, 2017



The U.S. Declaration of Independence declares that all people (okay, originally “men”) were created by God with “certain unalienable rights”, and that among these are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It further says that governments are instituted to secure these rights.


Is it stretching things too far to say that if we still believe in the principles on which this country was founded, that an “unalienable right to life” clearly implies that the healthcare necessary to preserve that life is also a right? It’s not a privilege to be reserved for the wealthiest, whether they be Whigs, Tories, Republicans or Democrats.  If life is a right, and healthcare is therefore a right, then is the government securing those rights when it sets up a plan that takes coverage away from cancer patients who can’t pay for treatment? How about when they take Medicaid away from poor families and families of persons with disabilities, who therefore have to choose between medical care and buying food? People in this country should have the right to not have to watch their children die, or struggle unnecessarily with serious disease and disability, simply because they don’t have enough money.


Life is an unalienable right. Healthcare should also be an unalienable right. It’s a right that should never be taken away or transferred to another.


But our Congress and President are seeking to take away those rights in order to provide tax breaks for the wealthy. They would have already done so but for the conscientious stands of progressive leaders and a handful of Republican Senators who were able to put conscience over politics. Take time to thank them!


Still it must be admitted that the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare” needs to be fixed. Costs continue to spiral out of control (it should be noted that they were spiraling out of control well before the ACA), and many middle-income people are struggling to pay for healthcare. Something does need to be done. But what?


More than two hundred years before “Obamacare” was passed, a document was approved that radically altered how society functioned. It was the subject of much debate and haggling before it was passed. People saw clear imperfections in this document that sought to preserve the rights of the common person alongside those of the privileged. And yet in the 200 + years that have ensued, the document has not been “repealed and replaced.” Why has the U.S. Constitution stood? Because those who formulated it saw the wisdom of including a process of changing and adapting it over time. Amendments! Amendments made it possible for our Constitution to maintain its original thrust, while adapting it to unforeseen flaws in the system.


The Affordable Care Act similarly needs to be repaired and amended, rather than repealed and replaced. Its basic thrust is correct, i.e. that:


  • Healthcare is a right all Americans should have, not a privilege for those who can afford exorbitant costs.

  • Pre-existing conditions should not be grounds for denying people healthcare coverage.

  • Those who have been blessed with much should help share the healthcare burden of those who struggle to provide children and aging parents with the medical care they need.


Doing these things is a tough challenge, especially when you add in the challenge of spiraling healthcare costs. That many Republicans at both national and regional levels have done all they could to subvert the ACA over the last eight years has made the challenge even greater.


I do not have a magic potion on how to fix the system. In the case of my wife Cathy and me, we are on Medicare, with a commercially-purchased supplement plan. We are very pleased with it. We are paying less for our medical care than we have for a long time. Could a single-payer system be designed that would work in our country, a “Medicare for all” system like they have in many other countries? I don’t know. I am not an economist. But I do think we need to put all options on the table. And we need to work together to really fix healthcare, instead of using it as an opportunity to get rid of Medicaid and give the rich a tax cut.


We need to work together. Trump needs to include Democrats and Republicans from all levels in the debate – not just the Congress, but mayors and governors as well, people who deal regularly with the poor in their state. Already it has been reported that Trump invited the 52 Republican Senators to the White House after the healthcare vote delay. More of the same. And Democrats need to do more than complain about the Republicans. They need to do more than object to what they are against. They need to share a vision of what they are for. And they need to find those outside of the Democratic party who share that vision.


The task of fixing our healthcare system is too important to allow it to be subverted by political games and manipulations. An unalienable right established during the founding of our country lies in the balance. Let’s wake up and get to work!


Keith Madsen (Keith Madsen is a retired American Baptist Pastor who is using his retirement to write, to take care of his 3 ½ year old grandson, and to teach chess to children. He lives in North Bend, Washington, with his wife Cathy. The image of the Declaration of Independence above is from https://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/images-declaration)

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