Most everyone has spoken out on reforming our nation’s healthcare system. President Barack Obama has now even set a meeting with Republicans by month’s end in an attempt to cobble together bipartisan efforts for reform. But what ideas can be so new and different to come out of any meeting that have not already been considered and trampled into the ground? For one, there has yet to be a declared consensus about how this area should be considered. When Obama meets with his colleagues, this should be the first topic on the agenda. Is healthcare simply a product to be bought and sold? Is it a right, like so many other industrialized countries view it? Is it a privilege attainable for only those who can afford it? Or is it a responsibility of the government to ensure, like providing heat or electrical power for one’s home? Obama was asked what healthcare was when he debated Sen. John McCain in Nashville back in fall 2008. He said it should be a right, and not a privilege or responsibility. Sen. Edward Kennedy said it was a right at the Democratic convention; so have many others, including this writer. I don’t say that healthcare is a right in a constitutional sense, for it is not specifically identified in the Constitution. We do know that the Declaration of Independence declares all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” but issues of accessibility and affordability to healthcare were not forefront on the minds of our Founding Fathers—healthcare was generally available to all citizens back then, and was not as integral a part of the 1700s as it is in today’s society. We also know that the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause to require prisoners be guaranteed the right to healthcare. Even the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 says “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.” Healthcare affects every single American, perhaps like no other area of human existence. Everyone knows what it is to be healthy and to be sick or infirm. It would be a major step, therefore, for the president to start any meeting with congressional leaders later this month with the premise that being free from sickness or disease, i.e., being healthy, is a right. The trick is, how to achieve this goal. In the end, it is not what it takes to get re-elected that matters to the electorate, only how to fix a broken-down system where disaster lurks around the next corner.
Miles J. ZaremskiLawyerZaremski Law GroupNorthbrook, Ill.