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Why Socialist Bernie Sanders Is Wrong about Health Care Being a Human Right

"Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude." ~Alexis de Tocqueville

Last week, National Nurses United (NNU) hosted a rally to celebrate the anniversary of Medicare. During the rally, NNU took the opportunity to host Independent-Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Sander's speech to the crowd shed further light on his socialist views on the future of health care in the United States.

In his speech, Sanders stated that “health care is a right, not a privilege of all Americans", which is far from the truth. The debate over whether or not the right to life correlates with the right to health care has been an issue since the late 1800's. The truth of the matter is that while you do have the right to your life (meaning no one has the right to murder you, force you into slavery, dictate the terms of your existence through coercion or forced aggression), this right is what is known to philosophers as a negative right; while the right to purchase and receive health care is a positive right. First, we must define what is a right, before we go any further.

According to the Markkula Institute for Applied Ethics:

" What is a right? A right is a justified claim on others. For example, if I have a right to freedom, then I have a justified claim to be left alone by others. Turned around, I can say that others have a duty or responsibility to leave me alone. If I have a right to an education, then I have a justified claim to be provided with an education by society."

Based on that definition, a negative right is a claim against being interfered with; while a positive right is a claim that requires positive action on the part of someone else. The American system is based on the idea that we have negative rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but not positive claims on others. For example, you have the right to worship as you please without interference (a negative right) but you don't have the right to force someone else to use their labor or money to accommodate you in your worship (a positive right). Philosophy expert Leonard Piekoff, PH.D touched on this issue by showing a more exaggerated example of what people feel they have the right to:

"...the American viewpoint continues, are the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. That's all. According to the Founding Fathers, we are not born with a right to a trip to Disneyland, or a meal at Mcdonald's, or a kidney dialysis (nor with the 18th-century equivalent of these things). We have certain specific rights [mentioned in the Bill of Rights]—and only these."

Thus the pretense of Sanders' statement is entirely incorrect, since no one owes you luxury cars, food, clothes, or health care. For the sake of driving this point home even further, voters in the upcoming election must realize that it is fundamentally wrong to keep anything that you have not created that others need to survive. Socialized health care is not "compulsory charity" as Democrats and Socialists (if there is any difference between the two anymore) would guilt you into believing. Its taking the financial resources of individuals to give to someone else, and in turn giving many people a poor product they didn't want to have in the first place.

An important concept to consider is that, if Americans are so focused on patient access and protection through medical coverage, who will look out for the best interest of the doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals? After all, medicine is something that many students throughout the nation spend incredibly large amounts of money and many hours committing themselves to getting their degrees and becoming medical services professionals. So the greater question should be whether or not you have a right to dictate the uses of their skills and talents. Medical practices are like any other commodity or service, they come with a very real costs since doctors become doctors not simply because they just want to help people, but because they want to make a profit and a living in the process of doing so. If there isn't a way to make a living and earn a humble profit, doctors and other medical professionals would be going against their own rational self-interest by entering the profession. A looming issue with the expansion of ObamaCare is the drastic shortage in doctors the US is facing. According to a recent report covering this disturbing fact:

"... The analysis finds that exchange plan networks include 42 percent fewer oncology and cardiology specialists; 32 percent fewer mental health and primary care providers; and 24 percent fewer hospitals. Importantly, care provided by out-of-network providers does not count toward the out-of-pocket limits put in place by the ACA."

What this shows is that people are as obligated to give you health care as much as they are obligated to give you their efforts and labor as a form of economic indentured servitude. A free market approach to health care reform is the best way to allocate services and products to patients, but also looks out for health care providers so that they can work to satisfy customers while satisfying their bottom line.

In conclusion, if we all have the right to health care, then using that logic we should all have the right to drive and own a Mercedes.

George Howell JR's picture
George Howell JR

The person who wrote this article has no clue of what he is taking about. First the insurance companies decide on what they will pay for treatments, how long you can stay in the hospital and what test they will cover.

To show you that this clown does not know what he is talking about I will give you a example.

Back round about me. I am retired. I am not on medicare or medicare. I do not have Obama care. I am 62. My wife this year went and had a heart test done. the cost over $1200. At first the insurance company denied the bill. They wanted more information why this test was done vs a cheaper version of the test. The doctor wrote them a letter explaining why. The insurance company agreed with his reasoning. So the issue their payment report. Total cost of the bill $1200 network discount $1200. The insurance company paid nothing and patient owes nothing. It has been 8 months and I have never received a bill.

So the next time someone claims to know thing about the healthcare insurance remember they could care less about you or your family and this freedom works is a prime example.

pl21224's picture

Read your insurance policy, you are entitled to get what you are paying for, no more, no less. Unlike government, insurance companies are business which have to balance their books to remain in business, and since hospitals are not allowed to turn away persons in need of care the price of providing has to be adjusted to for them to remain solvent, therefore the costs are distributed among those who pay for the services they provide. When government becomes involved, the costs do not go down, but are simply shared among a larger number of the population, and as a result more non-paying persons take advantage of more frequent and costly services which government pays for allowing the hospitals to raise their prices as government will pay the bill.
About 70 years ago I spent nearly a year in the hospital, paid for out of my Dads pocket, and he had no permanent job or insurance at the time. After government became involved in health care, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., prices have risen greatly.

Charles Plante's picture
Charles Plante

And I suppose this means he is against paying taxes on education for the children of our country too?
Whether a "human right" or not, the current system is obviously not working well. So, why not try something different?

chris.nichols.716195's picture

Maybe you should familiarize yourself with the law of diminishing returns. Government spends more on education every year and test scores are flatlined. Why do you hate people choosing to spend their own money on where their children go to school? I mean, you guys are all about "choice" right? Not really of course, you just like having a government run cartel that takes your money through force and then bribes you with it. Did you know, genius, that government doesn't produce a demand for education, or anything? And that it only provides a supply by taking something from someone else. Did you also know that before the individual income tax we have roads, colleged, railways, and and army and navy. I know, freedom is tough for morons.

Scot Acocks's picture
Scot Acocks

Boy, this commentary is more right-wing slanted BS that doesn't look at the big picture. If basic healthcare isn't a right, then why don't hospitals turn patients away at the ER when they are in need of just that? Anybody that is sick or injured can go into a hospital and get treatment as it is no matter what their credit rating is or whether or not they have healthcare coverage. The hospital is actually obligated to treat that person (even though it often takes forever!). The exorbitant bills that are then handed out often end up in collections and adds to the mounting debt owed to the hospital. When those bills never get paid the hospital loses out and sometimes even files for bankruptcy. Who usually bails them out? Any answer other than the taxpayers is incorrect. At this point though, the government is forced to hand out a larger sum of money than it would've in the first place if the person was covered under something like universal coverage.

Doesn't it seem like more sense to take a preemptive stance to growing problems such as these in the healthcare industry than waiting until disaster strikes and people start losing jobs as a result of budget cuts? Well, it's either that or we start denying people care in the first place.


chris.nichols.716195's picture

Hospitals don't turn people away because they want to help people, it's voluntary. They don't base their decision on whether or not it's a right, it isn't,. They do it because they want to do it, not because they feel compelled by the state, which is what you get under nationalized healthcare, along with shortages or doctors and hence treatment. How many hospitals have been bailed out by the government? The government is already the largest insurer through medicare and medicaid and they deny the most claims. You are already paying a tax for it., and since you were force to buy insurance via the ACA, most people have seen their costs rise because they have to pay for plans they don't need to shift costs to people who can't afford it. Of course, there are hidden taxes in the law as well that provide subsidies. Of course, back to my original point, nobody knows before hand what the costs will be so the government can't possibly know how much to take out of your paycheck every month to cover the costs of what will happen. In fact, what you get is market dislocation which shields the consumer - in whatever market - from the actual price and artificially inflates it. Tell me one thing the government has fixed? They already have their fingers in this and they have only made it worse.

emmagata's picture

What portion of your wealth would you like to have confiscated by the government to provide this "right" to others?

Maria Folsom's picture
Maria Folsom

Jerry Prigmore, thank you for writing the response that I was going to write! You are absolutely right. Sadly, many people think that if they never heard of a concept, it doesn't exist. Even more sadly, most have never read our founding documents.

twin3383's picture
Patricia Hegger

Where in the bill of rights does it even address your conjured up negative vs. positive rights. Besides the fact the you yourself (or some other conservative) have invented these terms, do not make them true. The bill of rights does say that everyone has the right to life. If this is true, it doesn't matter what you call it nor does it matter that it will cost taxpayers money, people should not have to die just because they cannot afford health care. In addition, the bill of rights does not state that everyone has the right to the pursuit of life. It specifically says one has the right to life. The example of people having a right to a Mercedes however is completely different from the right to health care because a Mercedes would be purchased in the pursuit of happiness never mind the fact that the car would not bring happiness. The bill of rights does not say society is obligated to purchase that which would make you happy, it just says you can pursue this. Try again. Your argument is pointless.

Logan Goforth's picture
Logan Goforth

I suggest you go and actually READ the bill of rights. NOWHERE is the right to life guaranteed. The phrase "...inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" comes to us from The Declaration of Independence, which is NOT law. Spout your nonsense elsewhere. Healthcare is not a right

Jerry Prigmore's picture
Jerry Prigmore

Negative and positive rights were not "conjured" or "invented" by this author. They have been recognized and discussed by philosophers for some time. Try a web search. And since all philosophy is "conjured" or "invented," apparently you have no use for Aristotle, Locke or Hegel, either.

The Bill of Rights doesn't mention the right to life, the Declaration of Independence does. Whether you believe it or not, the Bill of Rights is a charter of negative rights because it is solely a constraint on what government can do. This is why the president is so hostile to it, and has expressed as much. It does't say what government must give us for free, simce there is no such thing.

It doesn't matter anyway whether the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are in the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence. We are endowed by our Creator with our unalienable rights. Our founding documents do not grant us or give us our rights. We are born with them; those documents simply enumerate some of them. Neither does government grant us our rights.

Ironically, you provided an argument against your own position. You said "The bill of rights does not say society is obligated to purchase that which would make you happy." That's true, but it also doesn't obligate society to purchase anything, even that which is required for life.

The author doesn't need to try again. The analogy of the Mercedes isn't pointless; you just didn't understand it. The right to a Mercedes is analogous to a right to healthcare, because if they are rights, they are both positive rights, in that in order for you to exercise those rights, some person or group of people is obligated to give you their money, property, time, labor or expertise; their livelihood.

If you had a right to a Mercedes, how would you exercise that right? You could go to a dealer and demand one from his lot, demand a Mercedes owner give you theirs or demand someone give you the money to purchase one. Each way is absurd.

How less absurd is a "right" to healthcare, given that in order to exercise that right, we would have to demand that doctors and nurses give their time, labor, education and experience to us for free, or we would have to demand someone else pay them to give them to us (not to mention subsidize the construction, operation and maintenance of the hospital and everything in in it).

Whether guaranteed healthcare should be an expectation in a developed country with a welfare system is a separate discussion. But it is most certainly not a right.

pl21224's picture

My understanding of the difference between Negative and Positive Rights is as shown below:

Negative Rights - Are those which exist requiring no action by others, which when exercised impose nothing upon others. Our governments have been given a responsibility to protect our Right to life with laws that incriminate those whose actions are harmful to our lives. So negative Rights result in laws which are meant to make illegal acts which would inflict harm on others.

Positive Rights - Are those by which others are compelled to provide something beyond simply recognition. A contract between individuals is a positive right in which an agreement exists requiring something be exchanged between them, with government responsibility under the laws which resolve any differences between the parties over their individual compliance as to the wording of the contract. And therefore positive Rights have always existed without regard to Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism, Communism, or any other form of government.

I'm unaware of when or by whom the terms were created, but I find the implication of being created by a 'Conservative' somewhat ridiculous if not offensive, and if I remember correctly that it was Obama who seemed to bring the terms to our attention referring to our Constitution as “a charter of negative liberties” which “says what the states can’t do to you (and) what the Federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf.”

pl21224's picture

1. The 'Right' to life is mentioned only in the "Declaration of Independence".

2. The 'Bill of Rights', otherwise known as the 1st 10 amendments to our Constitution were added to define limitations to the powers exercisable by the Federal government over the States and the people, in recognition of the fact that the people collectively are the source from which ALL powers allowable to our government are derived.

3. Taking into account the words "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", from the "Declaration of Independence", our Federal government was founded NOT as the source of providing, but only as the means by which those Rights are protected, IF or WHEN they have been violated.

4. In a Free society, comprised of 50 Free societies, each of which is comprised of many smaller Free societies, laws exist under which the members have agreed upon as necessary in promoting and sustaining a peaceful and fruitful existence. Laws at the Federal level of government should be clear and concise in defining the boundaries within which the laws at State and local levels can be created compliantly.

5. A Free Market system is the means by which all members of societies function in acquiring their needs and wants. Government, at each level has a responsibility to ensure that equality exists resulting in healthy competition, allowing success or failure to occur as a result of consumer action. Regulations when necessary should in no way favour one competitor over another.

6. Health care, within ones means, should not be denied anyone. Means being the key word, it is NOT the responsibility of government at any level to redistribute the means of others in providing to those lacking the means of acquiring their needs. The Free Market Insurance system makes available a socialized Health care system to everyone who freely chooses to avail themselves of it. Those who choose not to remain entitled to avail themselves of what care they can afford, and all others are free to provide charitable assistance without need of government coercion.

7. Government imposed social programs have created a situation under which our Nation has become less competitive in the world market system, increasing our debt perpetually, requiring devaluation of our currency as the means of sustaining it, which only drives the cost of living and government spending at ALL levels higher.

PubliusIII's picture

Stunningly stupid. The Declaration of Independence includes the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The U.S. Constitution does not. IF we are all assured of the unalienable right to life then how could anyone explain the right to abort a third trimester baby? Please read in entirety the Constitution and all amendments as they are actually worded. You may be very surprised to find that the words are not those you were led to believe. Then read the writings of the authors of the Constitution and the Declaration. BTW the Constitution does NOT say anyone has a right to life. But you will be surprised what actually is written in the first ten amendments which is the Bill of Rights. Please read it!