Just health care (I): Is beneficence enough?

Few in our society believe that access to health care should be determined primarily by ability to pay. We believe instead that society has an obligation to assure access to adequate health care for all. This is the view explicitly endorsed in the President's Commission Report Securing Access to Health Care. But there is an important moral ambiguity here, for this obligation may be construed as being either beneficence-based or justice-based. A beneficience-based construal would yield a much weaker obligation with respect to the distribution of health care. In the first section of this paper I argue that the President's Commission is committed only to this weaker construal of this obligation. In the second section I argue that such a beneficence-based obligation is really rooted in a libertarian conception of justice, similar to that recently articulated by Engelhardt, and that this conception is seriously flawed when it comes to effecting a just distribution of health care.
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