Why Care About Health Care?

For Christians, this issue is more than political—it's moral.

Editor's note: Katie Paris is the program and communications director at the
Washington, D.C.-based Faith in Public Life, a nonprofit strategy
center for the faith community advancing faith in the public square as
a positive and unifying force for justice and the common good. She's been heavily involved in the health care debate in recent months and brings us a perspective from the heart of the discussion.

Last night, President Obama made the case that health care reform (a portion of his speech is embedded to the right) will benefit all of us—not just those without health insurance, but those who have it, too. In the lead-up to the speech, many political strategists and pollsters named this as the key ingredient to the argument the president had to make to convince Americans to support health care reform. President Obama’s success or failure, they said, would rest on whether or not he could convince people with insurance there's something in it for them.

I have always been one of those people with good health insurance. So have my husband, my parents and my siblings. I understand from the president’s speech last night that health care reform is meant to lower costs in terms of out-of-pocket expenses for my family and me, as well as the long-term fiscal health of our country. I hope that’s true. But as a Christian, that shouldn't be the only argument, or even the central one, as we think about health care reform. Addressing a problem of such gravity is not just a political challenge; it’s a moral one for those of us who claim our faith as our guide.

My 30th birthday came and went this summer without a single ache or pain, but this health care debate is beginning to make me feel old. I was 14 when President Bill Clinton joined a lineage of Democratic and Republican presidents, stretching from Roosevelt to Nixon, who tried and failed to fix our broken health care system. All the while, Christians across the country have sought to be part of the solution, continuing to minister to and care for the sick. But despite our best efforts in hospitals, clinics and congregations, and many piecemeal policy improvements by elected officials of good will, millions of children of God still fall through the cracks, and millions more stand at the precipice of losing their insurance, their homes and their savings if they come down with a serious illness.

On average, 22,000 Americans die prematurely every year because they lack health insurance, 14,000 lose their health insurance every day, medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies in America and health insurance premiums have risen 87 percent since 2002.

I know we need health care reform not just from reading statistics, but from working with pastors who see the consequences of our broken health care system in their own congregations. My friend John Hay, Jr., who was senior pastor of a church in Indianapolis that is two blocks from two hospitals, told me of families in his congregation who put off needed medical care for their children because they couldn’t afford to see a doctor, only to be forced to rush them to emergency rooms when the problems reached chronic stages. This kind of suffering and financial hardship is entirely preventable.

The Bible says ...

The Bible does not provide specific public policy prescriptions for how to solve our health care crisis, and Christians can disagree on many details of health care reform, but Scripture does make clear that health and healing are both personal and communal responsibilities.

We are challenged by the biblical health codes that governed the Hebrew people and ensured no one was left out because of cost. We are challenged by Jesus, who never turned away from human brokenness, but responded to it by healing both rich and poor alike. Healing is at the heart of the Christian vocation and central to all faith traditions.  When we are agents of bringing about that health and wholeness, we are doing the work of God. The very first followers of Christ lived out a responsibility to care for all "as anyone might have need."

Last night President Obama did not make the biblical case for reform—but he did make a forceful moral one. Significantly, he closed his speech by reciting from a letter written to him by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, in which Kennedy affirmed health care “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” Part of that character, President Obama went on to say, “is a recognition that we are all in this together."

The scope and nature of the healing our health care system needs will require us all—individuals, congregations, businesses and government—to work together, each according to our gifts, not only to mend the safety net and care for those it does not catch, but also to ensure fewer people fall in the first place.

The road ahead

Many important negotiations lie ahead, and people of faith are at the table—whether pressuring Congress to make sure “affordability” is a reality rather than a slogan, or ensuring that health care is not used by either side as an occasion to advance an agenda on abortion. This is not the time for that battle. People of faith will continue to hold President Obama accountable to the commitments he made last night on these issues and the moral principles we espouse regarding health care.

And as we engage in this challenging and urgent debate, God calls us to engage in truthful and civil dialogue. Many Christians are heeding this command, but unfortunately, many partisans have sullied the health care debate by hurling false, inflammatory accusations about “death panels” and “government takeover” and fascism and communism at supporters of reform.

Years ago, Catholic Archbishop Dom Hélder Cámara said, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist."

Throughout history, Christians have fought for justice for the least among us, from slaves to child laborers to those oppressed by Jim Crow, and at every turn these Christians have been imputed with ulterior motives and Godless agendas. Such accusations are no truer now than they were during movements past. And now as then, many Christians are at the forefront, advancing Gospel values here on earth.

When people of faith think of our health as a nation, we must think not only of our fiscal soundness and the number of Americans who can afford health care. It’s about more than that. Our health as a nation is measured by the extent to which we act on the belief we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and the belief that our individual well-being and the common good are inextricable.

More about Faith in Public Life can be found at FaithinPublicLife.org and FaithfulAmerica.org




Alison commented…

Your compassion for others is astounding. Way to exhibit Christian values and a Christ-like attitude.


workhorse commented…

Raised on a farm from the sweat of my brow and the whip of my mother's belt, I learned fast the earnings of hard work and idle hands. I graduated as the valedictorian, the English major par excellence of my colleagues and summa cum laude of my college. As an adult, I've worked as a teacher for the last six years, pressing my mind and my faith to the plow for the benefit of my students, their community and my family. At every school I've taught, my students have outperformed every other class of students in the school, earning the schools at which I taught state achievement recognitions six consecutive years in a row.

On average, for the past six years, I've worked 60-70 hours a week as an educator, the remaining hours spent with my family and serving my church community furthermore. Hard work, however, has guaranteed neither job security nor health insurance, since for reasons beyond my understanding, I've endured the pink slip from every school I've taught at for the last six years. I've never had the privilege of teaching somewhere for longer than a year. Ever.

This, of course, has raised complications in my health care, especially since, for the last two years, I've developed a handful of health conditions that have gone ignored for months at a time while waiting each year for my 90 days to pass and my insurance to begin. In addition, I've acted as the main breadwinner in my home while my spouse pursued graduate study--without insurance, as we were unable to afford the both of us in my plan. This also meant that when my spouse became ill, we were unable to pay the exorbitant doctor and lab fees required to even see a doctor. If a physician was seen, we then had to anticipate and sometimes forego the required prescriptions due to their price.

Currently, my spouse needs foot surgery and I need knee surgery, but healthcare to this degree isn't even close on our financial radar. I wish I could pay to help my spouse's foot. I wish I could take time off to care for my knee, but we can't afford it. I work very hard--but being assiduous does not pay enough. Do my husband and I deserve our lot? Are you volunteering to show Christian charity? If your response is not, in fact, an offer to help my family and other families like mine, then what are you doing? In our current financial state, there is a lack of financial freedom. We are, as you say, "truly needy". What will you do? And, if you will do nothing, why do you stop the government who offers to do something?


warrenbwhite commented…

As a Christian believer, I could not agree with you more.
am extremely disappointed in the Republican leadership for not offering ANY solutions to our healthcare insurance problems. The Democratic Leadership has sought bi partisan participation, they have received none from the Republican leadership. It is way past time for our elected leaders to STOP playing politics and take the necessary steps to move our country forward.
This is NOT a political issue, it is not a Democratic issue, a Republican issue, or an Independent issue. It is a MORAL issue.
From the economic side, as an owner of a small business I know that our country will NOT remain or become competitive when small business is being strangled by outrageous healthcare insurance costs.
The costs of doing NOTHING will be further decline of our economy, and more people going bankrupt, and dying due to lack of access to affordable healthcare insurance.

Warren B. White
Brentwood, TN

jake hawney


jake hawney commented…

Your contention that the leadership of the Republican Party has not attempted to work with the Dems in the health care debate is laughable. They have not been invited to the table because the Dems have no intention of listening to a word the GOP has to say. Here's the link to the GOP platform, you could also read my previous posts to see what conservatives would like to see happen. http://www.gop.com/2008Platfor... Democrats are interested in one thing, putting a plan into law that will eventually lead to single payer health care. This idea has failed to provide quality health care at a lower price than private insurance around the world. Sure it has given access to more people, but the quality of care and the innovation of new technology in those countries is pathetic compared to the United States. Anyone who says that it is immoral to oppose THIS plan for health care reform is being ridiculous. The Dems are able, because of their supermajority, to shut the doors on the GOP and claim that they are not cooperating. They have the support of the media and they can do whatever they want. Fortunately for the majority of Americans who oppose a government run entity, based upon every legitimate poll, the dems are going to put a starting point of the plan out into 2013, which gives ample time to vote out the Blue Dogs who vote for it and repeal the legislation.

Don't say that the GOP has no ideas, sure they might have poor leadership, but not a lack of ideas. That's like a parent locking a child outside the house and then grounding them when they don't come inside until you unlock the door after dark. This is about power to the Dems and pushing through the start of the most radical and expensive piece of legislation in the history of the United States. There is NO constitutional authority and the founding fathers will roll in their graves when President Obama signs this catastrophe into law.

It is the responsibility of the individual to meet the needs of the poor and the sick. I give and serve to the best of my ability out of my moral obligation. For the government to borrow (steal) money from me and future generations through taxes and debt, and spend it how they see fit is the real immorality.


Matt commented…

there are ways to provide for people in health insurance than having the government give to them. the government can't run a damn thing. for example, look at the post office, they are in debt, medicare, broke, the national deficit, 12 trillion. people have tried telling Washington that there are ways to provide health care in a way that won't cost your pocket a ton. for example allowing to cross state lines. or driving malpractice lawsuits down seeing as people will sue over nothing anymore these days. but no, of course your congressmen and senators don't care about real change, same goes to our president. it's pretty dumb to make this into a biblical issue if you ask me. didn't Jesus say he likes a cheerful giver? well if you don't want health insurance they'll fine you. we're already at 12 trillion dollar debt, let's just add to it with more expansive government. the bailout was supposed to help and we got left with a bigger debt and government handouts and no real stimulation of the economy or creating jobs. people say this is what Jesus would want, you're a fool for thinking so. what Jesus wanted was individuals to help people. not government. Jesus knew that Government was never the answer. half your congressmen are no better than the teachers of the law. you tell me if you want a group of who have bankrupted government programs and then rob the taxpayers in charge of health care. it's just moronic and won't work. if we had common sense we could see that Big Government isn't the way to provide, we could make law that state lines open up, Jesus cared about individual giving, not Government giving. Government giving never works. just look at half the Government programs that have gone wrong in the past decade. such as the banking collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and look at how the Federal Reserve didn't even do anything to stop the current recession but instead Ben Bernanke the Fed Chair gave money overseas to other banks. let's leave those people to run our health care system. they're so fit for the job.

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