Watching Politics From the Pew: The Cost of Healthcare and Wisdom

Each week in Watching Politics From the Pew, Benjamin Bartlett offers a thoughtful Christian perspective on the latest political happenings in the news.

What should we do about the rising cost of healthcare?

If you focus your attention on the political rhetoric surrounding this topic, you will usually hear what a candidate is against: public exchanges, insurance companies, mandated coverage, Obamacare, etc. If someone is for something, it is often for the purpose of blame, such as being for tort reform or for price controls on insurance companies.

Some of those debates are helpful. For instance, I personally think finding ways to expand the pool of the insured is a key component of good health reform.  I also think tort reform and bundled payment structures based on quality of care rather than number of services are important pieces of addressing our health cost problem.

But as is so often the case, the core of health reform is not in our regulations or our laws or our market structures. It is in ourselves.

See, the problems in our health care system are significant. The system could be better designed and more efficient.  But the real driver of health costs in our country isn’t an imperfect system, it’s irresponsible living. Our cost-of-healthcare problems could be almost completely solved in just a few years if every citizen committed themselves to a few basic things: eating healthy, making use of preventative care, and exercising regularly.

Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason, though: we keep returning to it like a dog to its vomit. Our national crisis is an amazing display of the simple fact that sinful humans are not good stewards of the bodies God has given them, that they consistently give in to their greed for more even when more is not needed, and that we do not pursue wisdom in all areas of our lives, no matter how much evidence shows us that we need to change.

It’s this last area –the pursuit of wisdom- where you and I need to encourage each other to change. Real wisdom pursues God’s truth and trusts His perfect knowledge. God has placed us in a unique moment in history; a moment when we know more about how to preserve our own health wisely than at any other time. And yet in so many ways we squander it, because we refuse to commit time and energy to learning and to reorganizing key aspects of how we live.

Obamacare has some good ideas, and it also has some bad ones. Republican opponents have some good alternative ideas, and they also have some bad ones. But the fact is that neither side has any real ability to target the real problem; people love pleasing themselves more than they love pursuing wisdom that God has made available to them.

Let me just take a moment to encourage you to pursue this wisdom. Learn the basics about how to be healthy. Get help in understanding your particular health needs. Set clear, measurable, attainable goals for yourself, and get accountability help in pursuing them. God has given you access to wisdom which will make you a better servant in the city of God, and a better citizen in the city of man. Little things like this can have a big impact in the advancement of the gospel.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • Steven Sukkau

    Woah, let me start off by saying I am Canadian and therefore have no clue as to how the American health care system works or the proposed reforms from the government. So I can’t speak to the politics, but as a Christian I was disturbed by some of your implications. Rising costs of healthcare can be solved if everyone started eating healthier and exercising? Yes, I can see how that would save doctors and nurses time and valuable resources which could be allocated to those who really need them. And if that truly was possible, if we could then offer affordable treatment to the seriously injured or sick, then I am in agreement with you in your politics. But the spirit of your message seems to be: health care is expensive because we’re all fat and lazy. I love being healthy, I take my vitamins and exercise regularly and I would also encourage people to do the same. But if our gluttony and greed is truly a manifestation of a spiritual problem and sin, then I wonder if saying “get educated and eat healthy” will have much of an impact, both in health care and advancing the gospel.
    Instead, if the root is truly sin, then no amount of wisdom or proactive habits will do much good. The problem is we’re stuffing our faces and trying to please ourselves to find an iota of respite from our insatiable hunger for God. Heal the root and the symptoms are gone. That’s why telling people to be healthier will get you blank stares and shurgs. Grace on the other hand, is what people need.
    Even as you smoke, over-eat and refuse to exercise, we will pay your medical bills when you get sick. We will love you and not judge you because our hearts are breaking for you. You need Jesus, not over-eating or alcohol. But like the good samaritan we will pay your bills regardless of who you are or what you do. Now that would have a big impact on the advancement of the gospel.

  • Steven Sukkau

    *shrugs
    not shurgs lolz

  • Ben Bartlett

    There are a lot of thoughts in there, Steven, so I’ll address them as best I can.

    First, there really is no question that if good health and exercise were widespread staples of our culture, healthcare would be easy to afford. I’ll refrain from bringing out the numbers, but there is no question among experts on this point. The biggest drivers of rising health costs in America come from preventable health conditions- mostly related to obesity (heart conditions, diabetes, back and joint issues, etc.). Non-preventable conditions would be quite easy to pay for if there were large reductions in the occurrance and costs of preventable conditions. To put it in your words, healthcare IS expensive because we are fat and lazy.

    Second, I am not saying that healthy living is the answer, especially not the sole answer, to a sin issue. I am merely saying that a sin issue is the root cause of a national political problem, and I am saying that God has made wisdom available which shows us the way to be better stewards of our lives. Do I expect everyone to suddenly follow my advice? Surely not, even the First Lady can’t do that despite her best efforts. But I don’t think my analysis is incorrect; God’s wisdom is available if we would only make use of it.

    Finally, to be clear, this column wasn’t intended to be centered on the gospel. Of course health is a minor issue in comparison to the need every person has for the saving grace of Christ. But that doesn’t prevent us from discussing the fact that God has revealed His wisdom to us in many areas of life, and it is a profitable exercise to discuss and implement that wisdom in our lives.

  • Steven Sukkau

    Ok, I’m thinking I misread, so the wisdom of God has revealed to Christians that being a good steward of our bodies would have benefits to our current health care problems. In doing so, Christians would also have an opportunity to be good witnesses, thus advancing the gospel?

    I misread and thought you meant bringing the wisdom of being healthy to non-christians would advance the gospel. Oops, sorry for the confusion!

  • Peter

    Steven,
    Depending on governemnt policy to advance the gospel doesn’t seem very wise to me. If we had a truly Christ centered government then maybe your good samaritan approach would be the best way to reach people for Christ, but we don’t have a Christ centered government and we are still left with the problem of not being able to pay for healthcare. I agree with your approach, but only in a local church setting where churches are caring for members of their community. To me, calling Christians to healthy living is not only biblical, but also part of the solution to a national problem.
    Feel free to clarify if I am misunderstanding what you are saying.

  • Peter

    Wow, a lot happened while I was writing my initial comment, so it doesn’t make much sense now. I started writing a while ago but then got distracted (I am at work after all).

    I know you weren’t trying to offer a solution, but now that we are on the topic I am curious as to what you think the solution is. Obvious unhealthy living is the main driver, but how do we fix that?

  • Steven Sukkau

    Yup, it makes for a one sided debate but I think we’re all on the same page, I just misread what Ben said. I agree, all Christians are called to be good stewards of what God has given us, including our bodies. I haven’t done the research to talk about what governments should be doing to address health care, but I love what Ben says about our un-healthy lifestyles being a symptom of our sinful natures.

    I have a few ideas myself, but I am curious, how do you guys think a healthy lifestyle promotes the gospel?

  • Ben

    Hey guys, thanks for the good discussion.

    Healthcare and healthy living are huge topics so it’s really difficult to make too many generalizations. I think, though, that doing this column has reminded me that the citizenry of a country is made up of millions of individual units… individuals, families, churches, communities, businesses, etc.

    So I think my main point would be that individuals need to look at their own spheres of influence and ask themselves; “How can I influence those under my care to live more wisely?” This is a good question for a lot of areas, but let’s talk specifically about health.

    In my life, this means:

    1. Doing my best to provide health insurance for my family, to protect against catastrophic health bills. A long hospital stay or chronic illness can put your family in debt for months, years, or even decades if you don’t have health insurance. With the new requirements and rules in the healthcare bill, health insurance is available to all. Every family should make it a strong budget priority to be covered.

    2. Asking my wife to help me by keeping me accountable in areas of healthy eating. I have a huge advantage here (p.s. make use of your advantages!) because my wife is a fabulous cook, and she is wise about healthy eating without being a skinflint about it. The point is, food is a key area where we can exercise wisdom.

    3. Doing whatever it takes to force yourself to work out consistently. In my (geeky) case this means creating spreadsheets to keep track of my workouts, so that I can prove to myself that I am getting the needed amount of exercise (ideally about 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, 3 times per week). For some reason, checklists are the only way I can stay on track and keep from trailing off.

    4. As I grow in responsibilities at work, I can have a role of encouraging the people I influence to improve their health by encouraging programs to quit smoking, programs to lose weight (in a healthy manner), and accountability for exercise.

    5. In my role at church, too, I can use relationships and influence to encourage a healthier community. Even things as simple as being willing to tell my personal stories of success or failure in maintaining healthy living can benefit the people around me.

    I realize those ideas are oriented toward individuals, but I find that it’s difficult to try to communicate the need for change to people not inside your own sphere of influence.

    As far as gospel promotion, to be clear I do think there is a role for stewardship that exists in the life of the Christian independent of gospel advancement. That said, better health tends to improve your energy levels, your mood, your ability to interact with the world, and your longetivity. Those are all good support structures for advancing the kingdom! In my own life, I have found that my improving health has made me more able to love my family, better at my job, more ready to help out around the house, better at preparing Sunday School lessons, and more energetic in participating in church life.

    Finally, healthy living can be one component of the “city on a hill.” effect. Though taking the gospel to all nations is unquestionably the key mission for the Christian, attracting people to the church by displaying a different, better way of life (a way which points to the truth and wisdom God provides) is also part of our role here on Earth.

    Hope all that was helpful!

  • Greg P

    As someone who was torted a couple of years ago, I’m now hesitant of tort reform. Setting an arbitrary cap on damages doesn’t take into account the particulars of each individual case.

  • Ben

    That’s an interesting point, Greg. Hopefully the goal of “reform” is to be a better system for all, rather than arbitrary standards that don’t take individual cases into account.


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