Brian Sapient at Atheism wants to know if atheists agree with the claim that education and health care should be free.
Of course, nothing is ever free. Somebody has to pay for it. So the real question is whether education and health care are things for which people have a right to force other people to pay for, threatening violence up to death on those who refuse.
As it turns out, these are two different types of goods and, as such, they require two different answers.
Education is a public good. It provides benefits to people - not just the person being educated. We are all better off in a community of well-educated, reasonable people. Whereas those who are stupid and irrational create all sorts if problems, not only for themselves, but for others.
We find this in climate change denial, where people who cannot reason their way out of a wet paper sack provide a significant barrier to policy options that could prevent a great deal of global harm and suffering. I am not saying that I know what the best options are. I am saying that it would be nice to have this discussion with people who can at least put aside the poor arguments that currently dominate global warming denial.
A public good is something that other people have a reason to pay for (there is some sum of money less valuable to a person than the benefits they obtain). However, they can not be blocked from these benefits when others pay for them. Free riders who seek to obtain the good without paying cause the good to be under funded.
National defense, a police and court system to fight crime, pollution control, and flood control, all produce public goods. They also are things that it is reasonable to ask the public to fund.
Health care, on the other hand, is a mostly private good. It's benefits are almost exclusively to be had by the person whose health is being cared for.
There are exceptions. Immunization against communicable diseases provide a public good by creating firewalls against the spread of those diseases, for example. This provides an argument for government subsidies for immunizations.
It is also true that we would all be better off surrounded by people who are generally healthy and fit. However, a government health and fitness program is a different sort of thing compared to free health care.
In fact, in one important way, free health care might work against overall public health and fitness. Free health care means, "We are going to cover the costs of personal decisions detrimental to health and fitness."
Smoking. Obesity. Lack of exercise. Drug and alcohol abuse. Unprotected sex. Use of alternative medicines (e.g., prayer). These all decrease health and fitness, and increase health care costs.
For all practical purposes, free health care is actually a subsidy for these types of activities. A subsidy invites people to take up an activity by saying that the government will pick up part of the tab - cover some of the expenses - associated with smoking, obesity, sexual promiscuity, and the like. It is a subsidy for unfit and unhealthy living.
It is also important to recognize that many of the activities useful for maintaining health and fitness are free. It costs no money to get exercise, not smoke, not over eat, not abuse alcohol and drugs, and not have unprotected sex. People can also save a lot of money by avoiding quack medicines and other nonsense - another potential benefit of a quality education.
Where people are choosing to risk their health, I do not see any particularly strong reason to want to compel others to bail them out when they suffer the results of their own choices.
Having said this, there is a certain amount of medical care that qualifies as a welfare good. It goes in the same category as having food to eat, water to drink, air to breathe, and a basic freedom of movement. You are not going to survive without it. Even a fit and healthy person will have health care costs necessary to maintain a minimum quality of life. Others lose health and fitness through no fault of their own. To state the obvious, we all lose health and fitness eventually, no matter what we do.
If a civilization has a lot of resources being spent fulfilling few and weak desires, there are many and strong reasons to direct some of those resources to fulfilling more and stronger desires. Methods would naturally include praise and condomnation - to promote an aversion to wasting resources on trivial things and a desire to help those in need. Other tools available to obtain these ends include rewards (for those who make these kinds of contributions) and punishment (for those who do not).
However, this is a far more limited option than would fit in the category of "free health care".
So, to answer the question.
The state should heavily subsidize education - real education; the acquisition of reasoning skills and true beliefs. The subsidy should respect the degree to which education is a public good.
If a society has people spending resources on fulfilling few, weak, and trivial desires, then it should redirect some of those resources to fulfilling more and stronger desires of basic health care. It should also work to promote health and fitness. However, subsidizing poor lifestyle choices is not a useful way to spend government funds.