Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Universal Health Care, A Thoroughly Christian Concept

In light of health care reform discussion, I think it's important to remember the passage in Romans that refers to government:

Romans 13

Submission to the Authorities
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."

While I don't agree with the direction that our federal government is moving, it is legitimate government. The people in office were legitimately elected, reflecting the current overall majority of our nation at the time of the election. American government is not the Kingdom of Jesus, and it will not be perfectly run. However, it is legitimate authority. Therefore, as a Christian in this nation I am called to respect that authority, which I believe involves reading legislation and reacting intellectually to that legislation.

What does that mean?

Rather than reacting to what the pundits are saying, find the specific errors in the legislation and provide specific reasons those ideas will not work. For instance, it does no good to just make a blanket statement that "universal health care" doesn't work. For all intents and purposes, that's not true. Several European nations have successful systems that have a combination of private health insurance and a public option. It might not work in Canada, but that isn't going to convince lawmakers, or other citizens who can help to put pressure on lawmakers, here, when the plan on the table doesn't even compare with that system. It's like if someone was saying, "Eating an orange when you have a cold will give you enough vitamin C to stop the cold." And you respond, "It's obvious that eating that apple is not going to solve the problem."

We also need to keep in mind that as Christians, our hearts should be "broken by the things that break the heart of God".

Jesus' purpose in coming to earth was to give his life as a sacrifice for all of humanity's sins, and also to conquer death. Not a small agenda. Yet, a big part of his ministry was healing. He was moved to compassion for the people he saw suffering. While I believe that part of the reason for the inclusion of miracles in the Bible is to reveal Jesus' power, I think it also serves to show us his concern for people who were suffering or simply wanted to be healed. As someone who is trying, in a rather floundering and unsuccessful manner,to be like Jesus, I think it's important to care what happens to the health of everyone. As Christians we need to be very concerned for all of God's children, and our goal should be that every person has at least the option of accessing quality health care.

I think Christians need to reclaim the concept of Universal Health Care!

We've taken a concept that should belong to the church, abdicated our responsibility and allowed it to be delegated to the government. The church used to be salt and light in the area of providing health care to our citizens. Just a look at all the hospitals is evidence of how involved Christians were. However, when was the last time a new (new, not one that's being moved from one location to another) hospital went up in the name of Christ? Have you heard of any new clinics established in his honor? Health Insurance plans?

Universal Health Care does not need to mean socialized medicine. I think it's safe to say that no one wants to live in a society where people cannot access health care. Rather than letting those who want to socialize the system take a term and change it into what they want it to mean, I think we, as Christians, can push for true "Universal Health Care" by making sure that laws are fair and just, medical care costs are not skyrocketing, and private insurance is available as viable options for the vast majority of people who are willing to purchase it. Most importantly, launching ministries that serve the health needs of our fellow citizens, including those poor enough to not have other options, would go much further than anything the government could provide.

It also means being responsible with your own life choices. I've heard people yelling about how they don't want to be forced to purchase health care. That's fine. However, if you are not willing to pay into any system, then are you willing to be completely responsible for your medical costs? Are you willing to sign an affidavit stating you will not access emergency care at a hospital, or if you do, you will foot the entire bill? Part of what is fueling the current health care crisis is the irresponsibility of people who aren't insured showing up at hospitals needing emergency help and ultimately costing the government and the insured significantly more money. Sometimes, that's not irresponsibility -- people can't purchase health care under the current system. However, many people just want to go from job to job without a long term plan or would rather spend their money on cable TV, high speed Internet, newer cars, entertainment, convenience food, and new clothes rather than on health insurance. Paying for health care should be a part of your budget, just as the grocery bill or rent.

If you sincerely don't want to be a part of the system in any manner, then look for models of health care legislation that offer an "opt out" option and lobby your congressman and the White House to add that into the legislation. Currently, the Netherlands is one model that has an "opt out" clause. However, simply saying that you don't want to be forced to pay for health insurance isn't going to do any body any good. And, incidentally, it's now been a few days, but I remember nothing in the legislation that says you have to purchase health insurance.

Okay, I lied, this will not be a three part blog series. Tomorrow I'm going to blog about ideas I have about what Christians can DO about health care reform.


Philip said...

"Part of what is fueling the current crisis is the irresponsibility of people who aren't insured showing up at hospitals needing emergency help and ultimately costing the government and the insured significantly more money."

I assume you are talking about people who are uninsured by choice. Because as someone who is uninsured I object to that statement! Could you specify that in the future?

So people who are uninsured because they are irresponsible with their money aren't allowed to have a medical emergency and want care for it? Emergencies aren't typically planned. Some people at the ER are there because they genuinely need help. Should the ER quiz people about their budget and determine whether they are uninsured by choice or not then decide whether to help them or not? Where is the compassion you were talking about? There are still some honest uninsured people out there. I know there are people who take advantage of the system, but there are plenty of people who don't. I sometimes read your blog and think that everyone that is uninsured or on medicaid is irresponsible and spends money unwisely and bilks the system for as much money as they can. That's generalizing a bit don't ya think?

I'm sorry I've gotten upset about so many of your posts lately, but we are in a different financial position than we used to be - your talk of people without health insurance hits close to home.

Amy said...

That previous comment was me (Amy). For some reason my computer was signed into my husband's gmail account rather than mine. Oops

Deb said...

Amy, I don't normally respond to any blog stuff until morning, but I didn't want this to pass. I want you to note that I did say that some people are legitimately uninsured. What I was pointing out is that there are people who are content to flit from job to job, are not insured and are unwilling to pay into any system, but happy to stop at the hospital for any and every bump and bruise. I've known people who do that! Or they have a chronic condition they don't treat, won't pay into health insurance and are fussing about the idea of mandatory health insurance, but are quite happy to continue on in their old ways at the expense of others. I know Christians who have made and are making that choice. THAT is wrong. My entire point was that there are honest, hardworking people that are uninsured and that health care reform is necessary because of that! Don't forget, that I am very likely going to be in the same boat as you in just a few short months.

Realize, too, that many doctors and medical professionals are saying that part of the problem with the financial crisis of health care right now is that very problem I described. When someone shows up at a hospital uninsured (without private or public insurance) and they get treated for an emergency that could've been averted by preventative care, then that emergency gets passed on to every person via taxes or the cost of other services rising. If someone has a legitimate problem and has not had access to health care or a job, that's one thing. If they just didn't like job after job, so they keep switching, never get insurance or would rather pay for movies, eating out and new clothes than paying insurance premiums, that's a completely different scenario. It was to those people I was referring, thus I mentioned that there are people who are legitimately uninsured.

I realize that you are sensitive to this topic right now, but I think you keep generalizing what I'm writing. Compassion is NOT enabling someone's dysfunction, it's being willing to sacrifice time and money to help them to face up to things that they can do for themselves or do for them the things they really can't do for themselves (like if they really can't pay for their own healthcare).

Perhaps if you can't read about health care reform without getting angry, then you might want to consider not reading about it right now.

St said...

I'd argue that if it angers you then now is exactly the time to be reading. Now is when the change is going to happen.
On another note, I thought this was well-reasoned and the ONLY thing I've read against the current healthcare bill that didn't anger me! Like Amy, I get very upset when I hear people, especially Christians, trash talking the uninsured. Jesus never did that. He didn't even trash talk those who CHOSE poor working conditions (prostitutes, tax collectors). I wager that he would be just as quick to show compassion for the "job-flitters" you mention as he was with those he encountered in the Bible. They all need Jesus, they all need healthcare. I wish I could know for sure what kind of system would serve us best.
Thanks for writing this.

Deb said...

ST -

Actually, you're right. People should be reading and writing about this now, despite anger. I was thinking, then, about Amy who is my friend and is facing a forced unemployment due to a levy not passing, and subsequently has no health insurance for the time being. When I was walking that path at one point, I felt like I had been abandoned by God, frustrated because I had no control, and fearful it wouldn't end. For me, the best choice was to not engage, but to pull back and focus my energies on believing that God was good and would provide for us.

I do think that there is a difference between the role of the state and role of Jesus in dealing with people who are not insured. Jesus loved, but he did not excuse, nor was he content to leave people the way they were. I see people make that mistake all the time with my girls. They think that they are showing compassion, but instead they are showing some kind of sick pity that makes them feel good and actually hurts my girls. I think the love of Jesus works to make people equals, not something where one person is constantly giving a handout. It also shows us to spur each other on in spiritual maturity and growth, while appreciating the differences in how we live.

I'm not sure how that plays out in health care reform, except that I think that a system that makes it realisitcally possible for people to purchase their own or transfer more easily, allows for people who might want to flit about do so. If someone wants to work for someplace to 1 year, then change, and can maintain their own coverage, then they have the opportunity to function responsibly whereas right now, if they do that, then likely they will not be covered and a problem is compounded.

Of course, this is an age old question that I'm sure I'll never answer, however if we can be constantly thinking and praying about it perhaps God can use us as salt, working his ideas into the system that runs our state.