A recent column by conservative* Neal Boortz contested the notion of a "right" to health care.
Your "right to health care" would require some other person to give up a portion of their life or their property to either treat you or to provide you with drugs or medical implements.
This is a very strong argument against anyone having a "right" to a particular material circumstance. Unfortunately for most conservatives, this argument is actually too strong. The libertarian principle that one should not compel others to provide you with material well-being (i.e. anti-slavery) if taken to its logical conclusion strongly implies anarchism. This is surely not what Boortz, or any other conservative, is advocating when they attack the welfare state using this argument.
Why anarchism? Consider that all government services are provide by taxes, wealth that you are forced to give to the government. Regardless of who receives the tax money, the net taxpayer is technically the slave of net tax consumers. This is true regardless of what the money is being spent on -- even police protection and national defense are tainted by taxation. (If you argue that these services are "special" you now have to explain why mafia protection rackets aren't legitimate as well.) The only way to circumvent this ethical problem (other than ignoring it) is to posit that taxes are somehow a voluntary payment for services received. However, those arguments also fail, since it implies that one can force a purchase on someone. Can a grocer place food in your fridge without your consent and then demand that you pay for it? If it isn't OK for the grocer, why is it OK for government?
All of these arguments for anarchism are very strong and difficult for non-anarchists to refute without admitting that government operates in a special ethical realm unique from that of normal citizens. Simply put, people accept behavior by their government that they would not accept from any private person.
However, most people are not bothered by this. They accept that government gets to break the rules. They believe (usually without reflection) that government is a unique institution that acts in unusual ways because without such an institution we would not have a functional society.
Even conservatives like Boortz accept this basic notion that government is special. After all, conservatives support the war in Iraq as a means of liberating the Iraqi people. Yet, ask yourself, would you save a hostage by tossing a grenade into the room? No? Then why would you save a country by bombing it? Once again, government has special rules. Conservatives object to government in the case of health care but, oddly, not in the case of war.
Obviously there is some other principle besides inalienable rights that underlies the conservative world view. Otherwise, per above, they'd all be libertarian anarchists. Many liberals believe that health care should be considered a right. This is poor terminology on their part. Boortz is using the correct definition of rights as something that protects your actions, not something that compels others. However, semantics aside, do conservatives have a decent argument for opposing universal health care? As far as I can see, they do not.** Having the government pay health care expenses is not substantively different from having it provide courts or defensive services or really any service at all. To many liberals, the reason the government provides these services is because the government is the best institution for providing them. This leads us to the "other principle" underlying the conservative world view (and the liberal one as well).
This principle is that the violation of rights is sometimes necessary in order to prevent other violations. In other words, the world is complex and sometimes it is difficult to determine who is actually being harmed in a particular circumstance. To many modern liberals, some people don't have decent health care due to the actions of others which those people cannot control. Lacking a good way to account for actual harms, the modern liberal chooses to address the lack adequate care rather than assessing the cause of the problem. They do this because it solves the immediate problem. Sure, this doesn't get to the heart of the matter and the solution will no doubt need to modified as time goes on, but the immediate crisis is addressed.
There's a pretty serious tension here between the principle that rights protect us rather than compel us and the observation that violations of rights are not always crystal clear. Ultimately, the argument over health care (or any government policy) is about the relative balance of these two concepts. There is no "right" to health care, but it might still be acceptable to have universal health care because the task of figuring out why the system doesn't work is too complicated to unravel. The advantage of say, a single payer system, is the speed with which the worst outcomes of the current system are corrected.
However, this is not to say that there isn't a good argument against government-provided health care. Just as we can't discard entirely the concept that harms can be ambiguous, we also can't ignore the reality of people's inalienable rights. A single payer system, for example, has the strong disadvantage of being very difficult to uproot once created. While one can sympathize with the desire to address a problem directly and quickly, shackling future generations to that solution shows a total disregard for the principle of rights.
If you're going to fix a "crisis" -- the solution should fade away after the crisis. Consider the policy of anti-discrimination laws. Technically, such civil rights legislation violates freedom of association by forcing racists and sexists to do business with and hire people whom they don't wish to. But, since future generations will be increasingly less racist and sexist, these laws will eventually become irrelevant and the rights violation will cease to exist. That's the way government intervention should balance out. The intervention is temporary -- and fades out over time as the crisis fades.
So, sure, there's no right to health care, but that doesn't mean government shouldn't do anything about it. However, the possibility of intervention doesn't give the government a blank check either.
* Boortz often refers to himself as a libertarian. However, his support for the war and opposition to civil liberties make him a pretty shoddy libertarian.
** Conversely, anti-war liberals probably shouldn't argue against the war by saying that we should be spending the money on health care. I mean, if it's not OK to force people to pay for the war, why health care? Because it's nicer?