Health care is a subject on which I am hesitant to speak (although it is a vitally important subject), because I can claim no expertise on the subject, and because God has few authoritative words on the subject. Until recently, my attitude toward the health care issue has been “whatever works.” I have since begun to pay more attention to the question of what truly works.
God has endorsed neither single-payer health care, nor free-market health care. Yes, Jesus was famous for his healing ministry. But Jesus was a faith healer: he did not use pharmaceuticals or medical treatments, nor did he refer patients to Caesar or to the rabbis’ poor fund. Jesus also ministered at a time when even the best doctors were quacks by modern standards. The rabbis said, “The best among physicians is destined for Gehenna” (Mishnah, m. Kiddushin 4:14). Given that Paul did not consider even food to be a human right (2 Thess. 3:10), it is better to speak of health care as an imperative of compassion rather than a human right.
I propose at least two Biblical principles by which any health care system can be measured (there could be more). One principle: We need to care for every human who is created in the image of God (I would say, from conception to end of life). The other principle: The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick (Jer. 17:9), which means, any time we try to pass a law or start a government program, someone will try to abuse it. To provide the best care for human need, we’ve got to figure out the system that is least vulnerable to human corruption.
Most of us on both sides of the political aisle want to get rid of cracks in our system like non-portability and pre-existing conditions. We want to see an end to cases of people who can’t get needed care because they can’t afford it. Our present debate is about whether this new plan will give us more care or less care than we have now (will we have rationing on a scale that would make the most evil HMO blush?), will it give us more freedom or much less freedom than we have now, and at what price.
One way to look at it: Do you want some bad, evil insurance company or HMO deciding whether you can have a new kidney? Or do you want the government making that decision? What recourse do you have when the government denies you kidney cancer treatments?
I don’t mind paying higher taxes to insure that everyone has health care, if that’s what’s needed, and if the money will do the job. But the problems of non-portability, pre-existing conditions, and people who can’t afford care, can be reportedly solved at a fraction of the cost of the proposed solution at the moment.
It has been pointed out that requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions is like buying fire insurance during a fire, i.e. insurance and medical coverage are two different issues that should not be thrown together. To lump them together destroys the whole concept of insurance. To cover such persons requires direct aid rather than insurance (unless we wish to pay the cost of higher premiums that would be required to insure such persons). As it is, we all pay when the uninsured go to emergency rooms. We need to find more sensible ways to pay for health care for those who can afford none.
Do we have a right to plenty of qualified doctors? If you’ve had to wait a long time to see a doctor lately, imagine how much worse it will be when doctors begin quitting in large numbers. Take a look at the waiting periods in countries that have government health care. Imagine how many people die before the government can get around to treating them. (That will be a six-month wait on that colonoscopy … .) Universal “coverage” is meaningless if you can’t get treatment.
A doctor told me recently that doctors, insurance companies, trial lawyers, and government all bear part of the blame. The role of any third-party payer such as insurance automatically inflates the price of health care. Compare the explosive rise of medical costs, to the much slower rise in the cost of dental, ocular, plastic surgery, and veterinary care, where insurance plays much less of a role if any at all. See how the price of private health care drops in countries where insurance and malpractice lawsuits are in short supply.
Years ago when I first got health insurance, I thought that insurance was meant to be for big-ticket costs, not for fertility treatments or contraceptives. I assumed those were items that should be paid for out of one’s own pocket, to avoid wasting everyone else’s insurance dollars. By contrast, today’s sense of entitlement leads us to demand that somebody else’s health care dollars should pay for motorized scooters for those who are incapacitated. We demand transplants that were not humanly possible 50 years ago, as if they were a human right.
Are we clergy willing to trade in our “Cadillac” health care plan for a model that is less of a job-killer for local churches? I believe it is unreasonable for me to demand a stress-dye test every time I have chest pain. (I passed such a test five years ago; to get retested every month would be unreasonable.)
The way I look at it, we’re going to die sooner or later anyway; does it matter that much whether I can push that date back 10–20 years? And if not, then it’s time to stop demonizing insurance companies and government for placing limits on their health plans. There are only so many organs and so many dollars available.
There are no easy answers on health care. I can find no moral high ground. Contrary to the rhetoric, universal “coverage” does not mean universal care. I therefore reject efforts to forcibly impose health care solutions on all of us that promise what they cannot deliver. Yes, health care is an imperative of compassion. Let’s get past the political demagoguery and find sensible common ground on how health care can be provided for all.
TOM HOBSON of Belleville, Ill., a PC(USA) pastor for 27 years, is currently serving at First Church in Herrin, Ill.