Health care: Constitutional right or privilege?

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dear Lawyer Mark:

I have one question about this whole health care thing.

First, don’t we have a constitutional right to health care, and if we don’t why doesn’t President Obama just pass a constitutional amendment giving us one?

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It seems to me that we are spending a bunch of money arguing about something we are supposed to get anyway.

— Puzzled in Lawrence County

Dear Puzzled:

Well, your “one question” touches on a whole host of things. To answer the first question, there is not currently a recognized constitutional right to health care.

As to whether health care should be a right or should instead be a privilege, that remains a political question to be answered by the Congress, and ultimately by the electorate.

    To answer your other question, President Obama cannot pass a constitutional amendment.

The process for amending our constitution is set forth in Article 5 of the Constitution.

There are only two methods set forth for proposing an amendment, and once one is proposed, there are two different ways to approve it.

    The first method of proposing an amendment has never been utilized. That method is for a request from two-thirds of the states for a constitutional convention.

This convention would then meet, and propose one or more amendments to the Constitution.

The other method, which has always been used, is for a bill to be passed by both houses of Congress.

The House of Representatives and Senate must each pass the bill by a two-thirds majority, and the proposals then go to the states.

    As said before, once a proposal has been made, it must be accepted in one of two methods. This acceptance of the proposal is called ratification and once ratified by three-thirds of the States, the amendment is adopted.

One method of acceptance, which has only been used once, is for each state to call its own convention and vote on the matter.

his was the method used for the 21st Amendment, which repealed prohibition.

The other method for ratifying the proposal, which was used for the other 26 Amendments, is for each of the state legislatures to pass a bill adopting the proposal.

    As stated previously, the President has no official role in the proposal or ratification of a Constitutional Amendment.

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.