Health care is a moral issue

Matthew Gunter, a Facebook friend, shared a link to a fine blog post by Lavonne Neff today. It’s partly a review of a book by T. R. Reid, The Healing of America. Neff says the main point of the book is that health care is a moral issue. If we have the will to ensure that all people have adequate health care, we have the means. Neff writes:

1. “The primary issue for any health care system is a moral one.” If we believe no one should die for want of access to health care, we can find a way to provide care for all. If we believe health care is a commodity like TVs and automobiles, we can continue to exclude those who can’t pay. “All the developed countries I looked at provide health coverage for every resident, old or young, rich or poor. This is the underlying moral principle of the health care system in every rich country—every one, that is, except the United States.”

Neff goes on to share the insight from Reid’s book that “socialized medicine” is a term popularized by opponents of reform in the Truman era. So even the terms of debate are framed by partisans. Economically, Neff says, health care can be improved whilst saving money. Go read the post to find out why and how. I don’t want to give away all the goods.

I loved Neff’s final point, noting how these contemporary issues resonate so strongly with last Sunday’s lectionary readings. Proverbs 22 had this: “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” And James had this to say: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

A couple of weeks ago, I preached on this issue. I don’t often speak of direct political issues, but I urged everyone in attendance to call their Senators and Representatives and demand universal health care. It seems to me that this is a clear-cut moral issue and Christian imperative. Predictably, some people loved my saying this, while others were upset. When I spoke with a couple of people, I explained that I was unlikely to preach about political issues when they are tangential to core Gospel values, as I understand them. For example, while I have strong personal opinions about corporate bailouts, or tax rates, or campaign finance reform, I understand that these are not central issues. However, caring for the very least in our society is a core Gospel value. In fact, I would be astounded if someone could make any kind of biblical case for a health care plan other than universal care. (Before you start in the comments, I understand the effects that tax rates, for example, have on the poorest people. However, I hope that you, dear reader, can understand that a preacher can’t treat every political issue as a core issue.)

I intend to read Reid’s book. And I am grateful to Lavonne Neff for her clear summary of a major moral crisis we are now facing. I hope other preachers are taking this up regularly. The church could do much to urge passage of universal health care, or to put it another way, to build God’s kingdom.

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4 Responses

  1. If there were ever a core Gospel value, reaching out to and serving those in need is certainly one. Much as I want to remain open to listening to dissenting voices, I don’t know how much longer I can tolerate the vitriol being spewed by some Christians. Woeful.

  2. Fr Alexander says:

    Great post, Scott. Moreover, it is part of the social teaching of the Church that equitable access to health care is a basic human right. The devil is in the details, though — single payer, public option, or some form of guaranteed universal coverage through private insurers? We can disagree about what it will take to work. But the crucial thing is that from a Christian ethical viewpoint the current numbers of uninsured in this country are simply unacceptable — and immoral.

  3. Lou Henderson says:

    Dear Scott,
    Forgive a bemused intervention from across the Atlantic, from someone only slightly younger than the NHS! But if the nation’s health is important, those who can afford more should contribute more: to whom is this a problem, and why?

  4. I’m not sure if Lou realizes what kind of sheer terror many Americans have of “socialism.” The very word sends so many Americans into twitching fits of horror that the mere mention of single-payer health care can trigger it. Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been touting a bill, HR676, that expands the Medicare program into something like unto the NHS, but so many people scream “Socialism!” at the mere mention of such a thing, and thus the bill isn’t even on the table for debate. I’m not sure if this terror of socialism a holdover from the McCarthy era or what, but it’s very real here.

    Not only that, but many Americans that do not favor it are the types who believe Reaganomics really does work and is best for the country.

    Third, many politicians who are working on this issue have received obscene amounts of money from the ridiculously wealthy insurance companies, to help these politicians pay for campaigns and to stay in office. This is one of the reasons why the United States desperately needs campaign reform as much as it needs health care reform. I find this particularly horrible, as these health insurance companies, like Aetna and Cigna and United Healthcare, are using the money they receive via the premiums they charge to fight real health care reform in this country.

    Many labor unions do favor single-payer health care and I hope that they can continue to negotiate a fairly inexpensive group rate for union members; my boyfriend is a member of IATSE local 835 (Stagehands – trade show division) and he is also a US military veteran. It is possible he could get health care via either the VA or the union, so that would help him.

    Me, I’m not union and can’t be. There’s no union for receptionists. Depending upon what Congress does, my employer might no longer carry health insurance for us, and to the best of my knowledge, all these bills before Congress (except for HR676) have a mandate in them that requires all Americans to *purchase* health insurance from a private insurance company like Cigna, etc – but there are no provisions for capping premiums. This goes to show how addicted to capitalism this country really is.


    And it’s why I wish I could find a way to emigrate to Canada ASAP.

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