Health Care for All

A conservative case


Now that South Africa has legislated universal access to medical services, the United States remains the only industrialized or second-tier country in the world that fails to guarantee its citizens access to medical services. This is a curious omission for a country based on rights and liberty. It is equally strange from an economic and business point of view. For while foreign competitors get full medical benefits at one-third the cost, American employers are weighed down by ever-growing expense for health care. For Nokia, Volkswagen, and Siemens, this is an advantage over their American competitors worth millions. Despite these consequences, U.S. conservatives continue to belittle universal access. They argue that health care should be private, with a public safety net only as a last resort. In so doing, they diminish some of their most cherished principles. For universal access to needed medical services enhances not only an individual’s opportunity but also her or his productivity. In that sense, it is akin to universal schooling, which serves as a bedrock for maintaining and enhancing democratic institutions. The first universal health insurance system was forged and passed in 1883 by an archconservative, Germany’s Otto von Bismarck. He and other nineteenth-century conservative leaders in Europe were early advocates of universal access to medical services, for they saw such services as a practical means to...

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About the Author

Donald W. Light is co-author of Benchmarks of Fairness for Health Care Reform (Oxford University Press, 1996). He serves on the board of the Universal Health Care Access Network and is a Fellow at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.