Health care has not been officially recognized as a human right in the United States, which alone among the major industrialized nations has had no comprehensive system of health care delivery and insurance. Moreover, the vast majority of Americans other than present and past soldiers have obtained their health care from private hospitals, clinics, and physicians. In the strict sense of the term, therefore, the American health care system has not been "privatized," since it has been private from its beginnings.
Nevertheless, something akin to privatization indeed occurred in the United States since the beginning of the past decade. Since other nations seem to be interested in adopting some of the American model for their own health care systems, the implications of such reforms for human rights should be taken into account. The present paper relates both scholarly and informal observations of the American "privatization" strategy in health care in light of the conception of health care as a human right, closing with a note on current attempts to reconcile human rights to health care with privatization in current proposals in health care reform. 1
A growing philosophical literature in the United States examines the issue of whether health care is a human right. 2 American bioethicists have led the way in this work perhaps because the status of health care is an open question only in the United States. Citizens of the other wealthy states believe that health care is their birthright. Indeed, until the Reagan era a consensus existed even in the United States supporting the right to health care as a moral ideal, even if not yet a legal one. In the wake of the rightist trend in American politics, heralded in philosophy by the publication of Robert Nozick's libertar