In the U.S., the right to health is often held up as a utopian legal principle that other countries manage to embrace and that we shortsightedly spurn. What I learned working on a new project is that the right to health does not always lend itself to admirable ends. In some countries, a formal right to health is not used to advance equity but rather for the opposite. In other words, having a right to health can lead to a less equitable distribution of health care resources because, for example, people who are better able to navigate the legal system can claim more resources for themselves.
This insight and others are featured in an excellent book that just came out from Cambridge Press, The Right to Health at the Public/Private Divide: A Global Comparative Study, edited by Colleen M. Flood, University of Toronto, Faculty of Law and Aeyal Gross, Tel-Aviv University, Faculty of Law. This book is worth reading, in part, because it features chapters on countries that are not the usual suspects, including Hungary, Venezuela, Nigeria, New Zealand, and Taiwan. Two of the chapters are by U.S. health care scholars: one I wrote on the U.S. system and the Affordable Care Act (A Vision of an Emerging Right to Health Care in the United States: Expanding Health Care Equity through Legislative Reform) and one Christina Ho wrote on China (Health Rights at the Juncture between State and Market: the People’s Republic of China).
In my chapter, I argue that while the U.S. does not have a formal right to health, the ACA could provide the vision and foundation for an evolving American conception of a right to health care.