The pelican papers

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Christian health-care reform: Caring for all

Posted by Ron George on August 22, 2009

Christ the healer

Christ the healer

Jesus was a healer of body and soul. Wholeness is at the core of the gospel (see Mt. 5:3-11 for starters) — wholeness and reconciliation with God in Christ’s name, which of all possible kinds of healing is the most complete. Jesus was not a physician, but he clearly believed — because he acted upon it again and again — that making bodies healthy was one of the more powerful symbols of God’s love for humanity and of our love for each other. There are other symbols — the cross, for example, and the feeding of many by a few — but caring for the health and well-being of others, especially the dispossessed and disadvantaged, was fundamental to God’s revelation of fulfilled humanity in Christ Jesus. The city of God as revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus is one in which there is health care for all.

Christians are called to seek the city of God and its righteousness on earth as it is in heaven. It’s as essential to our relationship with God in Christ as asking for daily bread and forgiveness of sin. We pray in hope, and in ministry we act as though that which we hope for has already arrived — and where it has not, Christ Jesus sends us into the world to be prophets, truth-tellers who agitate the status quo by comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

And the truth is this: The American health-care system is not only bloated, inefficient and ineffective, it is immoral and un-Christian, insofar as it rests upon the profit motive and not upon the proposition that all healing is from God, whose will is to comfort and heal the afflicted. A system that excludes any of God’s children from medical knowledge, treatment and cooperation with God’s gracious will to make the broken whole is abhorrent to God in Christ. More than anything else about American society, our health-care system is sure and certain evidence that this is not a nation founded upon Christian principle, and that protestations to the contrary are no more than vain lip service and political pandering. Our American God is money, and Jesus’ teaching on this matter was quite specific: We cannot serve God and money at the same time. (Mt. 6:24) That is especially true with regard to health care.

Just how immoral is the American health-care system? It allows 20,000 Americans to die each year for lack of adequate coverage, and that estimate is on the low side. Lack of health insurance ranks third just below heart disease and cancer as a cause of death for people 55 to 65 years of age. Health insurance companies deny two to five percent of documented claims for costly procedures. (A congressional committee investigation recently disclosed that three insurance companies in the Northeast denied $100 million in such claims over a recent five-year period. In one case, a woman in need of urgent surgery to stem the advance of aggressive cancer was denied treatment because she once had the “preexisting condition” of acne.) Meanwhile, the “Christian” former governor of Alaska has the unmitigated gall to fabricate government “death panels” among current congressional proposals for health-care reform.

The immoral American health-care system drives 62 percent of all bankruptcies, a percentage that rose 50 percent between 2001 and 2007, an era governed by a “Christian” president who also declared an unprovoked, unnecessary war that has cost American young people tens of thousands of deaths and debilitating battlefield injuries. Many of these maimed military veterans were then scandalously mistreated by underfunded, understaffed military medical facilities. Meanwhile, 1.5 million American families lose their homes to foreclosure every year due to unaffordable medical bills.

American businesses have been pillaged by the health-care system for ever-higher premiums for employee health insurance, which has meant less care for more money for all. Meanwhile, nine of the top 50 profit-margin leaders in our economy are related to the health-care system. Their profit margins range from 28 percent for health-care facilities (No. 1) to 6.6 percent for generic drug manufacturers (No. 45).

Given all that financial investment — if we consider gouging businesses and short-changing customers “investment” — the immoral American health-care system should be able to claim it is the best in the world. After all, we spend 15.3 percent of our gross national product on health care, compared with just 8.2 percent in Great Britain. (Our God) money talks, right? Maybe, but it doesn’t result in effective health care. The United States ranks 37th in the world in overall quality of health-care, with higher infant and maternal mortality rates and shorter life spans than other industrialized nations — all of Europe, including Albania — where comprehensive health coverage for all is the rule.

It’s ironic that those who beat their chests loudest and longest about Christian morality — that they have it and their opponents don’t — are most likely to be among those spending $1.4 million a day lobbying against health-care reform in America. In not seeking change for the better, these allies of the status quo favor of the systemic moral failure of America’s health-care system. It is unconscionable for “Christians” to be systematically lying about current proposals in Congress with tales of “death panels” and “rationing” (as though insurance companies don’t already ration health care by denying coverage to really sick people) and making preposterous, false assertions about health-care systems that work, such as Great Britain’s. It is, perhaps, even more utterly bankrupt for these “Christians” to favor doing nothing at all — but at least they’re consistent in being faithful to their true God, the almighty profit dollar. (By the way, it might be instructive for rabid reactionaries to remember that the first proponent of universal health care in the U.S. was Teddy Roosevelt, no liberal by any definition.)

There are millions of wonderful people working within this awful system, just as there are many wonderful people caught up in dysfunctional family systems. My doctor and every health-care professional I know are dedicated to their patients and providing the best care possible. It’s not our practice of medicine but the financing of our immoral health-care system that must be reformed, made-over into a system that cares for all. Indeed, there are at least 17,000 patriotic American doctors, members of Physicians for a National Health Program, who are outgunned financially but deeply committed to health-care for all. There is no faith commitment in this, but it is consistent with Christian gospel values that health care for all be the bottom line and not a profit-driven system that exploits Americans for the sake of shareholders.

The Episcopal Church has passed a resolution in favor of health-care reform (yawn), but this is no time for resolutions. It’s time for prophetic action that will stand against the lies of “Christian” opponents of health-care for all.


3 Responses to “Christian health-care reform: Caring for all”

  1. Hi, just wanted to tell you, I loved this article.
    It was practical. Keep on posting!

  2. hI I’d like to source the image on this page. Can you help please.
    The Rev Diane Gilliam-Weeks

  3. Jan said

    I so appreciate your writing about this. Wish you could convince my husband!

    “In 1968, when Bobby Kennedy told audiences that decent medical care should not be a luxury of the rich, he quoted Aristotle: ‘If we believe men have any personal rights at all, then they must have an absolute moral right to such a measure of good health as society can provide.'”

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