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Oh snap! Miss USA just gave America a needed shot of 'health-care reality'

  • Miss USA Kara McCullough clarified the truth about health care.
  • She says it's a privilege we need to pay for.
  • Without jobs, there can be no health care.

Who could have guessed that the fresh voice and added nuance we've needed in America's health care debate would come from... a beauty queen?!?

But it's actually happening after 25-year-old Miss District of Columbia Kara McCullough won the Miss USA pageant Sunday night. During the pageant, McCullough created a controversy when she was asked the clichéd and all-too-simplistic question: "Is health care a right or privilege?"

"I'm definitely going to say it's a privilege," McCullough answered. She added: "As a government employee, I'm granted health care and I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs. We need to continue to cultivate this environment that we're given the opportunity to have health care as well as jobs to all American citizens worldwide."

What was so good about her answer was the fact that she went way beyond the easy way out of just telling people what she thought was right or most compassionate. Instead she got down to the heart of the matter by reminding us that when it comes to health care or any other commodity, you can't talk about providing it until you cover who's paying for it.

This has always been the core of the issue about health care even if it only seems like we've been arguing about it since the Obamacare debate began in 2009. Put into specific "right" vs. "privilege" terms, it began as early as 1936 when the still new Soviet Union guaranteed health care as a right to its citizens.

But that guarantee wasn't always worth the paper it was printed on, as rationing and long lines became the norm. Many actual Soviet people noticed those realities and gave birth to an old Russian joke: "Yes, health care is a right in the Soviet Union. And if we live long enough, we might get some!"

"Predictably, McCullough was pilloried by liberal critics online after her response. She was attacked as a "dumb broad" and had her comments deliberately misrepresented. Such is the norm in our very heated, small-minded, and still mostly useless health care debate in America."

The simple truth is that whether your country declares health care to be a right or a privilege, the first priority is making sure you have a free and vibrant enough economy to pay for health care in the first place.

That's why even single payer countries all have a secondary health care market where people willing to pay out of pocket can get better or more expedient care. This is true even in relatively prosperous nations like Canada, where people often flock to the U.S. to get X-rays, or MRI's and bypass the very long lines for those services in their home country.

The many radiology clinics and other health care providers that line the U.S. side of the Canadian-U.S. border and cater to Canadians stand as physical proof of that.

Enter Miss USA, who also happens to be a scientist working at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose answer is like a much needed shot of health-care reality. It should teach us all something about how we should look at health care.

Instead of something that can be "given" to us as a right or a privilege, her jobs-based answer reminds us that health care is more like a responsibility we must attain. We all have a responsibility to provide and pay for as much health care for our families that we can afford.

And if not enough people have jobs to pay for that responsibility, society breaks down. This is why countries with supposed "free" health care but no real economic opportunity like Venezuela are breaking down.

Perhaps if more people looked at health care as a responsibility and not a right, health care costs would actually be cheaper because more of us would be putting some skin in the game instead of subsidizing so many people from all economic levels and the politicians who have very little incentive to rein in their costs to the overall system.

This is not just some pipe dream. Getting people to put more of their own money to defray costs is precisely the logic behind expanding the limits and scope of health savings accounts. It was also the brilliant idea behind Indiana's pre-Obamacre policy calling on Medicaid users to put a little money per month, (sometimes as little as a dollar per month), into a health savings account of their own. Every little bit helps, especially when the dollar amount isn't as important as delivering a message that health care is never free. Nothing of value ever is.

Predictably, McCullough was pilloried by liberal critics online after her response. She was attacked as a "dumb broad" and had her comments deliberately misrepresented. Such is the norm in our very heated, small-minded, and still mostly useless health care debate in America. Noting that someone eventually has to pay for this vital commodity apparently makes you "dumb."

But perhaps because she now has gained some level of fame, and because she's also an African American woman who doesn't fit certain political stereotypes, McCullough will help the whole country get a new perspective on the health debate.

That's especially timely as the U.S. Senate marks up the GOP Obamacare replacement bill. Something tells me that if the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions called McCullough to Capitol Hill for hearings on the matter, we might get even more enlightened.

Any objections?

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.