Why conservatives should support universal health coverage

Most Americans today believe the government should guarantee health coverage for all. We can thank Bernie Sanders for putting universal healthcare on the agenda. We can also thank the fact that healthcare is on the rise as a priority among the public. The debate on whether there should be healthcare coverage for everyone centers around whether there is a universal right to healthcare. Those who support it justify their stance on the basis of such a right.

Even if we don’t have a right to healthcare, the government should still guarantee it for reasons conservatives should endorse.

The problem is that disagreements become intractable when they bottom out in mere intuition, causing the debate to reach a stalemate. I don’t think it needs to come to this since there should be universal healthcare regardless of whether everyone has a right to it. To move the universal healthcare debate forward, it may be helpful to drop the rights talk.


A strong case can be made that many groups have a special right to health care, which is less controversial than a universal right. The right is special in the sense that it only applies to specific groups.

The burden of justification is on those who don’t support guaranteed universal health coverage.


The second consideration for universal healthcare appeals to the principle of non-maleficence: The government ought to prevent social harm. Ensuring a safe society is, after all, one of the reasons why we have governments. Public sanitation measures, for example, are justified based on preventing harm to citizens that would result from living together in large groups. Harm prevention also justifies the government providing a police force and military.


The third argument appeals to socio-economic prudence. Just as it’s in the public’s best interest to provide all citizens with an education, it’s advantageous for society and the economy to offer a decent minimum of healthcare to all citizens. This is because a healthier society would create a more productive workforce. Additionally, a healthy and fit citizenry is beneficial for national defense. Finally, universal health care would lower the cost of healthcare for individuals thereby bolstering the spending power of citizens.

A philosophy professor who works in practical ethics. @ryankhubbard

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