How compatible are liberty and equality in structuring a health care system?

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28 (3):281 – 306 (2003)
Abstract
In their normative role in shaping the basic structure of a health care system, liberty and equality are often thought to conflict so sharply that health policy is condemned to remain an ideological battleground. In this paper, I will articulate my own view of why much of the apparently fundamental conflict between individual liberty and responsibility, on the one hand, and equality and equality's related concern for cost-efficiency, on the other hand, is less intractable than it is usually assumed to be. The result will be to break the rigid and stereotypical association of liberty-emphasizing social philosophies with the pluralistic market paradigm for a health care system and egalitarian, equity-emphasizing social philosophies with the unitary public system paradigm. Understanding better the moral ingredients of liberty and equitable distribution as well as the complexity of how liberty and equality actually intersect in a health care system opens the door to seeing the possibility of significant reconciliation. I will conclude, among other things, that even semi-libertarian views of distributive justice should strongly embrace compulsory, universal coverage of health care for some significant level of care, and that egalitarian views ought not to regard different levels of coverage for people of different income levels as necessarily unjust.
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