It’s been said that daring to change entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits) can be the “third rail” of politics. Touch that highly charged rail and you face political electrocution.
As Christians who serve God within the confines of our political system, including the current debate about The Affordable Care Act, (ACA) how do we address this? Are we relegated to the theoretical, the political, or just the charitable? How do we integrate what we believe with this highly charged topic?
There are some difficult realities in resolving how the Church can get involved. For instance:
There are uninsured and underinsured individuals.
There are healthy adults who gamble on not needing health insurance, and are stunned by a catastrophic health event.
There are abuses of the system.
There are families and individuals who are facing a more expensive health care premium under the ACA.
There are conflicting opinions on what is “necessary” and what is “intrusive” in terms of required coverage.
And there are devout, compassionate, God-loving people who disagree with one another on the exclusion or inclusion of contraception, abortion and maternity benefits. (Benefits which are now legally required by ACA for all women. There is some progress!)
But let’s take this back to the sacred Text. In both the Old and New Testaments, God intervenes with miraculous healings. In Mark 5 alone, the author records three separate healings by Jesus (the man possessed by Legion, Jairus’ daughter, and the woman with the incessant bleeding.) Since it is addressed in Scripture (unlike many other things we natter on about!) it’s not a subject we can avoid. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the untouchable were touched, the dead were raised, and the lame walked. People from all walks of life found healing.
As the fledgling Christian Church grew, healing by the power of God was also a part of Her testimony. Through the ages, the Church has cared for the sick and dying. Today, some of the largest health care corporations have religious roots. Though we can agree that concern for the sick is in the DNA of Christianity, it seems that we quickly lose our unity when we begin to talk specifics. Like what constitutes “affordable health care” for everyone.
As a chaplain, I frequently talk with patients and families who have significant health challenges. Sometimes it is more after-the-fact and the patient has died. Other times, I am part of the conversation about ethical and personal choices at end-of-life. In any case, I spend a lot of my time listening.
Frequently, the conversations I have with these families center around the care the patient has received. When this is a family with some kind of regular health insurance, there are fewer regrets. The most difficult conversations I have are with those who have no health insurance and have been forced to piecemeal medical care in urgent care centers, emergency rooms and free clinics. The cancer diagnosis, the traumatic brain injury, or the unexpected pregnancy are devastating events. Many times, the diagnosis came as a surprise because no one had been following these patients holistically, managing symptoms, reviewing medications and advising them on healthier living.
Health care workers, particularly emergency department staff, know there are different “classes” of insured people in the United States today. There are the premium insurance policies that pay for everything and have minimal co-pays. There are the managed care policies that allow for a prescribed set of treatments and interventions, carefully supervised and structured. Then there’s those who have either Medicaid or no insurance, who bounce from doctor to doctor, underserved and overlooked, who have little to no advocates to guide them through good follow-up care.
My greatest concern is for those without regular health care. They are part-time workers, contractors, self-employed laborers and the unemployed. They work for companies that do not have to provide benefits, even under the new health care laws, because they employ less than fifty employees. They are franchisees who do not receive benefits from their parent companies. They are the children of these workers – who earn too much to get federal assistance, but earn too little to afford purchasing health care insurance, even in a “marketplace” economy.
As the ACA takes effect, many of these individuals will finally have access to health care, but there will still be unresolved needs. Families who are trying to purchase coverage discover that there are glitches and exceptions in the coverage that is available.
What would Jesus do?
I believe those of us who follow Christ could begin by considering how we can help meet the needs of our own communities. Who are those among us that we can commission to be the Hands and Feet of Christ, to demonstrate God’s mercy and compassion? How do we go about caring for the needy, the widow, the orphan, the sick, and the poor? Are we advocating for them in our local and state legislatures? Are we considering how we might help feed the hungry, help with transportation to doctor’s visits or bring meals to the home-bound? Depending on your community, your “to do” list may look different than mine. But it can’t be left unaddressed.
There is no magic pill to fix the health care issues we face. But we can begin by personally seeking out ways we can serve the neediest, the least of these. Whenever I am tempted to turn away from this topic, I am reminded of these words of Jesus…
34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
Matthew 25 (CEB)