Health Care is a Right

A guest blog by Ted Doolittle, Connecticut’s Healthcare Advocate | 

The question before the Connecticut General Assembly: is there, or is there not, a basic right to health care?

The proposed bill, Senate Bill 330, doesn’t call for any particular new program or require any new state spending; rather, it is a simple declaration of principle and policy, which is that in Connecticut, health care is a right.

Do the people of the state agree?

Here at the state Office of the Healthcare Advocate (OHA) that question is answered dozens of times each day.

Every day on average more than 20 people reach out to the state Office of the Healthcare Advocate, mostly looking for assistance in disputes with their health insurance companies.

A common theme is that the family has diligently sought out and paid for health insurance, and then when a family member gets sick and they need to use the insurance, it’s not there for them.  These individuals and families often have a strong sense of betrayal – they worked hard, played by the rules, paid and continue to pay oodles of money into the system – and when they need it, it’s not there for them

Why do the people denied health care feel betrayed?  They know that they and their parents, children and loved ones deserve health care.  They don’t mind paying their fair share to get it, but they know that when they do, they have a right to get what they paid for.

That’s why Connecticut residents keep calling OHA so relentlessly.  They don’t call because they think they have a right to health care – they call because they know they have a right to health care.

We can debate about the limits of this right.  Does it include access to the latest TV drug that comes with sunlit meadows, horseback riding at sunset and 30 seconds worth of auctioneer-speed side effects?  Does our answer change when there is a cheaper generic?  Does it include cosmetic surgery – and if not, how about for burn victims?

And we can debate about how much it is fair to charge various groups of people – less charges for the poor, the disabled, or the incarcerated?  And we can have all sorts of interesting discussions about how to collect the money that will pay for the health care we need – do we collect in the form of taxes, or is it better for our employers to pay premiums on our behalf?  Or, maybe the money should come from the premiums we ourselves pay out of our paycheck, or is it better for the money to come straight out of our pocket for those on high deductible plans?

These are all complicated issues – terribly complicated.

But every time the phone rings at our office, it is not complicated.  We know who is on the other end – a Connecticut resident who is having trouble getting the health care he or she needs – and deserves.

The bill before the General Assembly doesn’t solve any of these difficult issues.  In fact, when the identical language was on the books for years before the Health Equity Commission was dissolved in 2016, these complex problems of access and affordability persisted, and still exist today.

What this bill did before the language was inadvertently repealed a few years ago, and what it will do going forward, is set a bar.

It declares what sort of state we believe we are.

Connecticut residents didn’t stop calling OHA when the language on health care as a right was inadvertently repealed.  They didn’t stop because they know what they deserve – they know health care is a right.

It is time for the General Assembly to catch up and codify what each constituent of every legislative district already knows – they know everyone in the state has a right to health care.