What It Means for Health Care to Be a Human Right

More than half the world’s countries have pledged to protect their citizens’ right to health care, through either national laws or international human-rights agreements. The United States is not one of them, although demands for universal health care and Medicare for All have been animating issues in the opening months of the 2020 presidential campaign.

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, nearly 60 percent of Americans think it is the government’s obligation to guarantee health-care coverage. What it actually means to protect the health of a populace, though, can be less clear. “American Indians and Alaska natives are born with a legal right to health services, and that’s based on treaties in which the tribes exchanged land and natural resources for various social services,” Donald Warne, the chair of the department of public health at North Dakota State University, said while speaking on a panel at Aspen Ideas: Health, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “Unfortunately, they’ve never been adequately resourced.”

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