THE BLOG
09/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Isn't Health Care a Right?

I am an American citizen without health insurance. I don't have a dental plan, either. I am, however, very familiar with the inside of my doctor's office as well as that of my municipal emergency room. Not to mention the operating rooms at two city hospitals and my children's pediatric dentist's office.


I had routine pre-natal care, of course, preceding the births of my two daughters. Then came the emergency cesareans when both deliveries went wrong. There was the surprise E.R. visit and D&C when I miscarried my second pregnancy and the multiple office visits and expensive prescriptions when I was dealing with depression. Then, of course, comes the saga of my eldest daughter's teeth: the eight cavities that had to be filled in her baby teeth and the permanent tooth she broke on the jungle gym that had to be reconstructed.


I have no idea what all of this cost. The thing is, I don't have to know. My pre- and post-natal care was free, the surgeries and the E.R. were free, and the dentist was free. All I've ever paid is my $20 co-payment for doctor's visits and a $3 lab fee when I miscarried. Even my prescriptions were subsidized.


You're doing the math now, and you're right, it doesn't add up. American plus no health or dental insurance plus expensive procedures equals financial hardship.


Not if you live in Norway.


It took years before I was comfortable with the idea of not paying an insurance premium and my husband's not being covered by his job. Neither of us has had insurance here as such, not as students or employees, because we are covered -- our entire family is covered -- by Norway's social welfare system.

The phrase social welfare comes decked out with red flags in American parlance. It also tends to give Americans the heebie-jeebies when it's accompanied by the word system. It's true, social welfare smacks of Big Government; it may even evoke Big Brother and the Red Menace among the uninformed. But, having lived with Norwegian health care for almost twelve years now, I can state with confidence that social health care does not equal communism and that it's good not to have to worry.


In the heat of current debate most people have forgotten one fact: America already has social health care systems in place. Medicare, for one, is a government-run social health insurance program. All our veterans and troops receive government-run health care, too. If we're already caring for our elderly and armed forces with social health care, isn't it immoral to leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves?


The Norwegian health care system is not the best in the world. It was ranked 11th by the World Health Organization in its last poll conducted in 2000. The current American health care system came in 37th. Not only that, WHO found that America pays more, lots more, than any other country: "The U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries according to its performance."

So if America is already spending more on health care than anyone else and if America's health care technology is second-to-none, why isn't health care a fundamental right? Why do I, an American citizen, have the right to health care only because I happen to live in a foreign country?


Health care is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Not James Madison's fault: Universal health care was unthinkable in any country in 1791.

Universal health care equals socialism. Socialism is an economic system, not a political one, nor should it be a dirty word.

European health care systems are flawed. Forty-six million uninsured Americans -- including nine million uninsured children -- isn't flawed?


Opponents are inflaming public opinion with un-truths about ObamaCare's leading us to horrors like euthanasia of the elderly and coverage of illegal immigrants, hoping that the rest of us will help to kill this reform with misinformed squabbling. Instead, we should all be up on our chairs asking one fundamental question: Why isn't health care an American right?