Testimony in opposition to HJR 100 regarding health care as a fundamental right

Steve BucksteinCascade Commentary

Testimony before the House Committee on Health Care

February 4, 2010

Chair Greenlick and members of the Committee, my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based research center that promotes individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon.

On a philosophical level, I object to defining health care as a right, or more precisely, what philosophers call a “positive” right. This country was founded on the belief that government cannot create rights; it can at best protect our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These so-called “negative” rights don’t put demands on anyone else; except the demand that no one violate them.

On a practical level, creating a positive right to health care would create an obligation on the part of some people to pay for it, and an obligation on the part of other people to provide the actual health care services. These obligations actually violate the rights of these individuals.

On a political level, I understand that government tries to grant such rights all the time. In this case, passing this constitutional amendment will make some people feel good. It says that we care deeply about the uninsured, but it only gives intellectual lip service, if that, to the matter of future costs.

Define health care as a fundamental right and cost control will go out the window – witness the public school system and how the Quality Education Model
demands spending increases that likely won’t result in any quality improvement.

I can almost see the just-around-the-corner Quality Health Care Model defining prototype health clinics, with mandated staffing levels, required tests, etc. Innovation will become mired in bureaucratic process.

Rather than spend precious political capital trying to create an artificial right to health care, I suggest we spend that capital finding practical ways to drive health care costs down and quality up.  Make it easier for more people to afford health care on their own by getting un-needed mandates and insurance regulation out of the way. Make insurance premiums for everyone tax deductible, not just for employers. Then, if you decide that some people still can’t afford it, take a page from the food stamp book, or other such programs where you simply subsidize health care purchases for low-income people. That will distort the economics far less than the route you’re trying to embark on here today.


Hearing audio is here.  Buckstein testimony begins at 01:39:05.

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