Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself on Twitter) summarized what I think of as the "well-intentioned but fuzzy-thinking Left" position when he tweeted: "For the record, perhaps because I'm from the UK, I think healthcare is a human right, like education . Not something to make companies rich."
For the record, I respect Neil Gaiman's talents as an author immensely. But calling something a "human right" does not make it so. We can debate the level of _____ that the better-off members of a society should make available to those less fortunate, and we can even debate whether the private sector or the government is a better provider of _____ to the poor. One cannot have an intelligent debate about whether something that uses scarce resources is a "right." Rights cannot depend on the wealth of a nation.
Here's a thought experiment. Let's say that food, shelter, health care, and, God help us, education are "rights." How much of each is guaranteed to all? Let us suppose that a nation - call it Caledon, for the sake of this paragraph - decided on a guaranteed level of each such that these "rights" encompassed the entire income of the nation. That is, add together all the earnings of all Caledonians, and suppose that this amount equalled the total expenditure on food, shelter, health care, and education. Obviously, the wealthier would be subsidizing the poorer, but that's fine. Now suppose that Caledon suddenly became half as wealthy as it was yesterday. Its expenditures on "rights" necessarily must fall in half. Have its citizens lost half their rights? How can that be?
The emptiness of the "health care is a right" position is twofold, because, not only is the word "right" being misused, but "health care" is so amorphous as to be meaningless. Does health care encompass preventive care? Minor treatments? Major surgery? Organ transplants? Does Mr. Gaiman want to claim that plastic surgery is a human right? Probably not, but one can't tell from his phrase.
The Declaration of Independence claims that man is "endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights" - among these, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Poor or rich, we retain these rights. These rights do not require the wealthy man to reach into his pocket to provide for the tenant farmer, nor do they change when the former loses his wealth. Not so for goods and services that require the wealthy man to reduce his consumption, or to reduce his investments in new goods and services, in order to serve the poorer man.
I want to emphasize that I am not saying individuals and nations alike have no moral obligation to help the less affluent with basic needs (and I play no word games with the word "needs"). I think the U.S health care system, while generally good, can be improved. But to use the words "human right" is to shut down debate; anything argued in opposition becomes morally indefensible. Anyone who wants to argue for greater health care spending on the poor is welcome to do so, but don't try to claim the moral high ground by inventing phony rights. It's a sign of intellectual weakness.