Yes, Healthcare Is a Right

Yes, Healthcare Is a Right June 16, 2018

They’re still at it. Another court challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is taking place in the Northern District Court of Texas in a suit brought by Texas and nine other states. [1] To understand the basis of the challenge, we must call to mind the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the “individual mandate” portion of the ACA in 2012. In that case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius [2], the Court held that, while Congress has no power to command the citizenry to buy health insurance, the “penalty” for not buying health insurance was actually to be understood as a tax, and was, therefore, constitutional.

But last year this tax was eliminated by Congress. There is no longer a tax for failure to buy health insurance. The ACA still has a mandate to purchase health insurance, but the mandate is now toothless.

Now since the imposition of a tax for failure to buy health insurance was designed to incentivize its purchase, and since the purpose of that incentive was to spread costs and keep premiums down, Texas and the other plaintiff states are saying that the purpose of the ACA has been defeated. Somehow, that makes it unconstitutional they say.

Of course, two features that will disappear along with the ACA if the plaintiffs are successful are the subsidies that help people afford insurance, as well as the rule against excluding pre-existing conditions—indeed, there will be no requirement that health insurers accept people with pre-existing conditions at all.

Ordinarily it would be the task of the Justice Department to come to the defense of this federal legislation. In this case, however, the Trump administration has declined to do so. [3] But if the plaintiffs prevail, that will be bad news for people with pre-existing conditions, and those who can’t afford health insurance without the subsidies provided by the ACA.

There are voices to be heard, even among Catholics, that health insurance or healthcare shouldn’t be the business of government. These would certainly applaud a victory on the part of Texas and the other states. But should healthcare be a concern of government? Does Catholic social teaching call for government’s involvement?

The answer is yes, quite unambiguously so.

The Catechism tells us that it “is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), §1910) [4] The “common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.” (CCC, §1908)

“Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.” (CCC, §2288) [5] “The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially…in keeping with the country’s institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits….” (CCC, §2211) [6] [7] And Pope Francis reminded us not too long ago in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that it “is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.” (§205) [8]

So, according to Catholic social teaching, it is a governmental and societal responsibility that every citizen have access to necessary healthcare. We can dispute about what the best way of accomplishing that would be. But, if we are to claim adherence to Catholic teaching, we may not ignore the requirement. And that means that we must be sincere about coming up with solutions that will actually work. It is, therefore, inconsistent with Catholic social teaching to get rid of the ACA and replace it with nothing or something worse.


The icon of St. Joseph the Worker is by Daniel Nichols.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Help in attainment of is not equal to government must control all of healthcare. Especially since, as we’ve seen recently in Iceland and England, when government controls healthcare, disabled people are killed to save costs.

    I suppose you don’t have a disability such as autism or downs syndrome, or don’t know anybody who does; but I for one am very afraid that when government controls health care and pays for it, the losers will be the most vulnerable among us. I’m seeing this in Oregon, where already, 10 children every day are ripped from their mother’s womb by abortion on the taxpayer dime, and we’ve already seen cases of the Oregon Health Plan offering cancer patients only euthanasia and not treatment.

    So therefore, a “right to healthcare” without a corresponding “right to life” has a tendency to become a very, very ugly thing indeed.

  • RobertArvanitis

    First let’s clarify that the Constitution describes negative rights, the “freedoms from…” No suppression of religion or free speech, right to bear arms, right against self incrimination and all the rest.
    The “right to” something is quite different. Every such “right to” creates a corresponding “obligation to” provide that thing. FDR’s claims for “affirmative rights” — to a job, home, medical care and so on — is undeniably a demand that someone else pay for them. That takes some work.
    I’d wager that you, Mr. Seeber (in comments), and I are in broad agreement about our moral obligations to the weakest in society. We must, however, act with the consent of the people. That means making a case for public charity, a justification of welfare that will gain the assent of the majority, including atheists and libertarians.
    There are good reasons for such public charity, and it is desperately important to articulate them. In small part to persuade the less generous. In far greater part to set boundaries; if we agree on reasons for public welfare, then we can judge which measures legitimately meet those conditions. We can draw a line on how much, and we can set conditions on who is deserving.
    We face a world with powerful dirigiste tendencies, and appetites for power that are insatiable. Ask a leftist “how much of GDP should government control? How much is enough?” They will not, indeed cannot, answer. Because it’s never enough.
    Therefore the justification for whatever the statists desire must first be articulated, clearly and with their assent. No articulation, no consent to their redistribution. No open-ended, that is
    endless, programs.

  • Health care is a right, but free health care is not a right. It’s just like, for example, access the clean water is a right, but you can’t expect other people to pay your water bill.

  • If it were a “common good” then why isn’t the electorate demanding it? You may think it’s in the common good, but voters aren’t buying it or they would demand it from their elected officials, no matter which party.