Rand Paul: Health Care is Not a Right

Katrina Trinko has a nice piece at National Review on Rand Paul continuing to offer pro-bono healthcare work when he returns home to Kentucky. Trinko reports right from the operating room, where Paul is literally giving people back their vision through cataracts surgery. But, it’s what Paul said in a speech at the University of Louisville that is most interesting:

“There’s a philosophic debate which often gets me in trouble, you know, on whether health care’s a right or not,” Paul, in a red tie, white button-down shirt, and khakis, tells the students from the stage. “I think we as physicians have an obligation. As Christians, we have an obligation. . . . I really believe that, and it’s a deep-held belief,” he says of helping others.

“But I don’t think you have a right to my labor,” he continues. “You don’t have a right to anyone else’s labor. Food’s pretty important, do you have a right to the labor of the farmer?”

Paul then asks, rhetorically, if students have a right to food and water. “As humans, yeah, we do have an obligation to give people water, to give people food, to give people health care,” Paul muses. “But it’s not a right because once you conscript people and say, ‘Oh, it’s a right,’ then really you’re in charge, it’s servitude, you’re in charge of me and I’m supposed to do whatever you tell me to do. . . . It really shouldn’t be seen that way.”

There’s a nuisance nuance here that Paul misses. If I want to purchase food or water, I know I can do so at an affordable, reasonable rate. I may not have the money to do so, but I know that if I do make a bit of money, I’ll have the ability to feed and hydrate myself. Health care is not the same. If I have a pre-existing condition, health care providers may not offer me any coverage whatsoever, or may only offer plans that are way too expensive to be deemed reasonably affordable.

If Paul wants to make those markets more similar to each other, then he must require insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions. That way everyone has the ability to purchase insurance. But if that happens, then the old and sick buy coverage while the young and healthy forego it. This creates a bad risk pool and leads to higher premiums, causing more young, healthy people to drop out of the market. Thus, the death spiral ensues. How do you stop that? By requiring or convincing young, healthy people to purchase health care. That’s what the Affordable Care Act does using both carrots (subsidies) and a stick (individual mandate). Paul’s comparison of health care to food and water demonstrates the need for greater regulation in the insurance market.

Paul’s answer to health care reform has always been that there needs to be greater competition in the industry. But greater competition isn’t going to help those with pre-existing conditions. If insurers don’t want to cover them, they aren’t going to cover them up – barring a requirement from the government that they do. That’s the type of requirement that makes the healthcare market more similar to the market for food or water. It’s also the type of requirement that Paul vehemently opposes. Nevertheless, that inherent contradiction doesn’t seem to bother the young senator as his speech at Louisville shows.


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