“Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV

The Bible, and particularly the New Testament, is full of passages which teach what many people would call simple humanity, or the idea that human life is special, sacred, the very gift of God himself to the one being that he created in his very own image.  Humanity was, indeed, so special, and so sacred to God that he literally sacrificed himself to save it when, as a result of the very image of God given to enhance life, humanity separated itself from him through sin, and fell. 

That’s why I have been just a bit baffled by the fact that, in the recent, raging debate on health care reform, which, like most other debates of this nature in our culture today, has turned completely political, there are few voices from any segment of Christianity in America that have advocated for what I believe is a purely Christian perspective and viewpoint of health care itself.  That there is a crisis related to health care in America is not much disputed.  The cost of accessibility to the existing system is a major problem.  Even for those who can afford to purchase insurance which covers some portion of those costs, being able to access the best care available is an issue because insurance companies draw a line between what they will pay for and the profit margin they will accept in order to remain in business.  A clear majority of Americans see the need for reforming the system.  The disagreements come over the question of how to do it.

The difficulty with any proposal for real reform is the idea that health care, like energy production, or the retail sector, is some kind of “industry” through which profit is earned by placing a supply and demand value on the products and services that are delivered.  In my opinion, however, there is a huge difference between health care, and supply side economics.  There is a moral question, in delivering health care related products and services, that doesn’t necessarily exist in other industries.  In health care, demand increases when the plight of the person requiring the service deepens and becomes worse.  A person is willing to pay sacrificially for the relief of pain, or for medication and treatment that will either prolong life or cure a life threatening disease.  To demand that price is, I believe, contrary to the principles of the scriptures recognized by the Christian faith as being inspired by God. 

Those moral convictions and values once expressed themselves in the ownership and operation of hundreds of hospitals across the US by Christian church organizations and denominations.  I can remember reading reports, in the annuals of Baptist state conventions, of  millions of dollars in charitable care provided by Baptist owned hospitals in places like San Antonio, Nashville, St. Louis and Little Rock, among many others, and of thousands of patient days at costs designed for the hospital to “break even” on the care it provided, helped along by contributions and fund raising.  Many hospitals today still bear the names of their Christian founders, and there are still some out there that are operated by Christian denominations or religious organizations dedicated to health care as a ministry.  In that past, which included some amazing medical research advances, may be a solution to our current crisis, rather than a government takeover or intervention. 

Likewise, the idea that major medical advances require a “profit motive” can be dispelled, rather easily.  The profit motive tends toward advances which have a universal benefit that can be sold and marketed to the population at large.  Most of the cutting edge medical advances have been done by research underwritten by contributions solicited by family members of people who have a rare disease which the profit motive overlooks because it doesn’t have money-making potential.  Jerry Lewis has been a remarkable advocate for muscular distrophy, and there are many others raising money mainly from invididual contributors and corporations and businesses than are prodded to give because of the PR value.  That in and of itself should be enough to convince Christians that the current insurance controlled health care system in this country is not consistent with their values. 

Part of the problem, at least from an evangelical, conservative position, may be the sending of mixed messages.  Evangelical conservatives have been the most passionate advocates for overturning Roe v. Wade and ending abortion on demand, on moral grounds, and rightly so.  On the other hand, in education, which is another battleground with regard to Christian moral and ethical beliefs and philosophical convictions, there has been major advocacy from the same group for government funding of private, Christian schools through a voucher system.  It is inconsistent to declare the government incompetent to operate health care, a humanitarian domain, but ask for its help in providing tuition and fees for children to attend private, Christian schools. 

Americans have long since developed the belief that government is the only institution in society capable of dealing with issues that arise which loom as large as the problems in our health care system, simply because of the size and scope of the issue involved.  That is simply not the case.  But instead of offering only opposition, and having that opposition sound like it is singing the same old political song, Christians need to come out and be on the cutting edge of humanitarian advocacy in an issue like health care, rather than appearing to be on the side which is simply protecting profits, and $100,000 an hour salaries of some insurance company executives. 

Government is not always the answer.  Though it is charged with providing for the common welfare, and protecting its citizens, there are segments of society which hold to ethical and moral standards that believe humanity is God’s highest creation, and which look to him to reveal the answers to our problems.  We can start with prayer, and putting some feet to those likely will involve doing more than just complaining about what the government wants to do.

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

5 responses

  1. Ken Coffee says:

    The problem seems to be that current proposals are not necessarily “health care” reforms. They are insurance reform proposals, which I believe are needed. Cost and availability of insurance is the primary reason so many do not have it. If congress would just own up to it and concentrate on insurance reform, rather than all the other issues they included in the various bills, there might be some bi-partisan agreement. Allowing insurance companies to sell their products in all states, and capping jury awards would help, also. Fraud and waste in medicare and medicaid accounts for a lot of money each year, yet we seem not to care about that, since there are no proposals to stop it. Government involvement in end of life decisions are anathema. These are family and doctor discussions, not for some panel of “experts” appoinjted by the government. I believe there are reforms that can be made with bi-partisan support if they will simply forgo the “comprehensive” and stick to more narrow targets.

  2. Lee says:

    I think the open competition in insurance would probably do the trick, with a minimum of regulation. Some provisions would need to be present to force insurance to pay for what they guarantee, and to get insurance company case workers out of the health care decision making process, but other than that, having a choice of a plethora of companies and policies for employers to bid on would probably lower the rates 60 or 70% from current levels.

    I think it is a shame that church groups have sold so many of their hospital operations to for-profit companies. In my observation, the care has suffered and the price has skyrocketed. Church groups found hospitals expensive to operate but at the same time, cooperating to provide a biblically based ministry was a good thing. I know a lot of people who came to know the Lord because they were in a Baptist hospital, and a lot of people who would rather go to a church operated hospital than a secular one when they were sick.

  3. K Gray says:

    I recently heard that over 75% of U.S. hospitals are nonprofit (meaning any excess income must be plowed back into the hospital rather than distributed).

    Hospitals sell when they continue to lose money and can no longer operate (and probably for other reasons). A charitable hospital is hard-pressed to stay afloat financially. It treats everyone it can; Medicaid is regulation-intense and low-reimbursement; then when charitable donations fall (including large corporate and trust donations, corresponding to the health of their own profits) the math just doesn’t add up anymore.

  4. Tim Dahl says:

    Lee,

    Just a couple of things. First, I’m looking forward to being in Houston for the annual convention. Perhaps my family will be able to visit your church on that Sunday!

    Secondly, what exactly are we reforming? Is it just about insurance? Is it just about cost? What is the starting point? Is it about availability of health care? If we have the real need in mind when we begin, perhaps we’ll have a better chance on actually getting there. So, what are we really asking?

    Tim

  5. Lee says:

    The starting point is accessibility to the system. Health care is available. The two issues, at least from my perspective, are 1) the cost of insurance and 2) the number of people who cannot afford insurance. The latter is increasing as the former increases.

    The game for insurance companies is to take risks on people’s health, hoping that they get to medicare before they have a major health expense, and that the amount they will pay into the system will exceed the amount they take out over a lifetime. As it is now, they set their own rates because competition is limited in each state, and they can eliminate the highest risk people from the system. Those last two points are where the real reform needs to take place. Open competition, allowing all insurance companies to compete in all states, and requiring them to accept all applicants regardless of their risk as a condition of being allowed to compete in the market would, according to most estimates, lower the premium costs by more than half. Eliminating the case workers from the medical decision making process, and capping executive salaries would also help lower costs.

    I’m not sure that you can require everyone to have insurance. You can’t make people buy something they can’t afford. Lowering the cost of premiums would help, as would raising the income requirements for medicaid.