Dodd: If You Have The Right To A Lawyer, You Should Have The Right To A Doctor

Since President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act,  Chris Dodd, the senior Connecticut senator not seeking re-election, has been talking up the legislation as a landmark law that honors the memory of his late colleague, Ted Kennedy. 

He did so repeatedly  in Connecticut this past week in a coordinated counter to the GOP’s destructive call for repeal before the ink had dried from President Obama’s signing pens.

Long-time Dodd observers shouldn’t be surprised when Dodd, who has been known to carry the Constitution in his back pocket, invokes a constitutional argument for health care as a right,  not just a commodity for those with the means to pay for it.

“I suppose — and history may judge us accordingly — that while everyone is entitled to a lawyer, regardless of what you’ve been charged with, that you don’t have a right to a doctor,” Dodd said at the February 25th “summit” in Washington alluding to the guarantees all citizens have to legal help.  

Dodd  repeated  that point again to kick off a week when  Congress people have come home to defend their votes on the reconciliation act and the modest steps toward reform in both health and the way Americans pay and have access to college.

Equating the “right to a lawyer” to “the right to a doctor” is a compelling argument especially when GOP attorneys general and partisan opponents call for constitutional and legal moves to defeat the will of Congress and deny 32 million Americans the opportunity to get health coverage.

You can argue that everyone does have the “right” by going to the emergency room. But that common occurrence is the reason why health care costs are out of control and driving up premiums to intolerable levels. A system that relies on the emergency room to make treatment a right blows cost-effective preventive care out of the picture.

This legal defense of health care access, emphasized by Dodd but few others, bolsters the main economic arguments for passage. “For middle-class families, this legislation means real economic security. You’ll be able to count on health insurance that you can afford and that you can trust will be there for your when you need it. More low- and middle-income Connecticut families can send their kids to college without saddling them with a lifetime of crushing debt. And you’ll never again have to fear that an illness or injury will mean economic ruin,” said Dodd in a March 25th statement.

Here’s how Dodd breaks down the benefits from reform for Connecticut families:
•Provide tax credits for up to 37,600 Connecticut small businesses to help make coverage more affordable.

•Prohibit insurance companies from excluding coverage of pre-existing conditions for the 807,985 children in Connecticut, starting this year.

•Ensure affordable coverage options for 356,000 Connecticut residents who are uninsured and 154,000 Connecticut residents who purchase health insurance through the individual market.

•Provide tax credits for up to 242,000 people in Connecticut to help make health insurance more affordable

•Reduce family health insurance premiums by $1,780 – $2,540 for the same benefits, as compared to what they would be without health reform by 2016.

Those are persuasive numbers that Dodd and others use to support reform.  By elevating health care as a right for all citizens, Dodd makes the cause even stronger from the moral and legal perspective.

We hear on every cop show on television “you have the right to an attorney.” Health care reform means we’ll hear on every medical  show on television “you have the right to a doctor.”

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