What is the best Christian, theological analysis of President Obama’s new health care proposals and plan?
I don’t know that this covers all the bases but I thought this article from urbanfaith.com was quite helpful:
Excellent question. I’m really disappointed in the lack of serious Christian commentary on this subject.
Regarding the Urban Faith article: It raises important issues, but I just can’t buy this kind of vague conclusion:
“Ultimately, however, we cannot look to the government to solve the problems of the urban poor. Rather, we should take that as the responsibility of Christians.”
Is this the approach the author would apply to the problems of the elderly? Or can we agree that Medicare and Social Security play an important role in ensuring justice for the aged?
As Christians look around their congregations on a Sunday morning, can we honestly say it’s realistic for the church body to meet the health care needs of, say, a congregant who loses his job and is then diagnosed with cancer? What about those outside the church body who find themselves in that situation?
I am not a theologian, but I simply cannot find evidence that Biblical principles rule out the need for collective/government action to provide justice in some cases (recognizing the balance that must exist between individual and collective responsibility). My perception is that conservative Christians who oppose health care reform have bought much more into the libertarian concept that every man’s resources are his and his alone–as opposed to the concept that everything on earth is the Lord’s.
This quote from Michael Kruse pretty much sums up the problematic policies of the Obama administration:
“Autonomous individualism is a product of the Enlightenment. But so is the notion that a national government entity can correctly comprehend massive complexity, act with greater wisdom toward the common good than what emerges from people freely engaging one another, and that it can do so with greater moral rectitude than would otherwise be the case.”
Link to original article: http://tinyurl.com/cgt2de
“As Christians look around their congregations on a Sunday morning, can we honestly say it’s realistic for the church body to meet the health care needs of, say, a congregant who loses his job and is then diagnosed with cancer? What about those outside the church body who find themselves in that situation?”
My thoughts exactly. Health care costs border on the obscene and if the church takes it upon itself to care for all its members’ medical needs in such situations, it may end up with little left for other services.
I subscribe to the idea that the Church should not cede to the government all responsibility for the poor and for social justice issues. But especially in cases such as health care, it is irresponsible to deny help from secular government when we cannot handle the load ourselves.
That guy sounds like a crackpot to me! 🙂
Seems to me that your assessment of the solution is going to be heavily influenced by your perception of what causes the problem. This is not an area where I’ve done considerable research but I think a number of things need to be taken into account.
Health insurance is not health care. There are millions eligible for Medicaid that haven’t signed up and others who have signed up but don’t use it. Typical reasons include feeling intimidated when dealing with medical professionals and the attendant bureaucracy, as well as services offered from inconvenient locations with inconvenient hours. Providing health insurance isn’t going to rectify this.
I think there needs to be two tiers of health care. One is for routine discretionary health care services and the other for costly episodic care that includes hospitalization, surgery, therapy and the like. The first should not be insured and the second should be.
In other facets of life, we use insurance as a way to spread risk across a broad number of people, not as means of guaranteeing routine services everyone uses. Some will say health services are different because they deal with a basic need for survival. Food is a basic need for survival but we don’t have an insurance program or a centralized bureaucracy supplying food. By creating market competition for routine health care, health care providers will have an incentive to be more responsive, offer more convenient services, and offer better prices. Insurance is intended by design to encourage people to limit use, not to use more.
Up until the early 20th Century, various people formed benevolent societies that spread health care risk across a group of people. My Danish immigrant grand-father belonged to a society for Danish immigrants. One stat I recently saw said 99% of African-American households in Philadelphia in 1919 had one or more society members. Participants joined for a fee and the societies hired and oversaw physicians, managed costs, and used collective clout to get cheaper services. All that ended when a combination of insurance companies and medical associations combined to get legislation that drove benevolent societies out of the business. If we had such societies today and there were those who could still could not pay, the government could give vouchers that folks could use to shop for which society best met their needs … putting the poor in charge of their own care and making medical providers accountable to them.
Even with something like benevolent societies, there is still going to be a need for insurance and I wouldn’t claim to have a answer for all contingencies. Furthermore, this nonsense that Obama is trying to kill off old people is just silly. About 80-90% of a person’s health care expenditures come in the last two weeks of life. Some extraordinary measures used on terminal patients are quite costly but are necessary unless the patient has explicitly waived the use of them. Having people plan for their last days is prudent and will save money. The bigger issue for me is putting layers between the care receiver and the care provider. It destroys all accountability, distorts supply and demand signals, and usually becomes grossly inefficient.
I liked what 2Kyle said.. but I don’t see the current governmental proposals really fixing anything.
I think Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 speaks pretty clearly to the matter. (I like HCSB choice of words.)
Here’s the best overview I’ve seen of what the current proposals (broadly speaking) would accomplish:
Written from a pro-reform standpoint, but clearly points out both the potential winners and losers.
To me, the greatest benefit is fixing the hole in our current system: between the truly poor, who get their health care from Medicaid/Medicare, and the middle class, who get their health care from their employer. It’s those working for employers who don’t provide health care coverage that face the greatest injustice right now: a lack of affordable, quality coverage options–and no safeguards against preexisting conditions.
Kyle, under normal circumstances I would agree with your disapproval of seemingly vague ideas as the one you have quoted. But I must point out who the author is – John M. Perkins. He has spent his life helping (and succeeding) local communities develop in all sorts of ways bringing not only medical and health clinics into poverty stricken neighborhoods but helping build businesses, schools, co-ops of all sorts and much much more. He proves that the Christian community can step up to the plate and take care of many of these problems. You should read some of his books. I also recommend books by a guy named Robert Lupton. Both men have proven vague conclusions are not so vague as much as very very tangible.
As an Aussie, I find it absolutely stunning and incomprehensible that a nation such as the USA, is incapable of providing health care for the population. To hear that people are refused treatment because they don’t have insurance is just incredible. In Oz we have a national health system that everyone pays into through their taxation, a Medicare Levy it’s called. This provides access to doctors and treatment in the public health system. It’s not perfect by any means and certainly doesn’t fund the totality of the medical costs, however it does mean that people get to see a doctor/receive hospital treatment. In addition, we have private health insurers for those who can afford to pay, which gives greater choice of doctors and hospitals. Why do Americans have such a problem with universal health care? Surely Christians can’t have any objection to the government providing for those who need it? Isn’t this a case of caring for the poor and needy?
One of the catch-22’s of Christianity, it seems, is following those whom God has chosen to appoint to authority, in what is termed a representative form of democracy? In that sense it is not a follower issue- because, it does not involve a lack of patriotic support for the national leader in the Presidential role. That being said, the ones who aren’t represented in this debate are those who aren’t going to be addressed, because most of us, including those who have read the over 500 pages of legalese in this plan; don’t know exactly what it spells out and doesn’t spell out. One thing I’ve learned being around lawyers is, they are slick when it comes to wording things so that what a regular normal person would call bad, is worded in legalese to appear good. This bill is laden with legal speak and I suspect it has more than one tax bombshell in it. I do not agree with people becoming absolutely incensed to the point of threatening representatives and Senators with harm over their vote on this matter. On the other hand, I can certainly understand why they believe that nobody is hearing what they are saying as the pressure mounts to pass this bill which very few have read and fewer still comprehend the fine print of. If it’s a good and necessary action now, it will be a good and necessary action three years from now when we’ve had time to get into the legalese that is the fine print matter of the 500 pages in it.
Oops,,,,my bad,,,former post has the wrong URL for us…thanks drd
my husband and i happen to attend a church that has been espousing more fundamentalist views, as of late. i have received email forwards regarding obama’s health care plan, and it is being compared to nazi concentration camps. here is an email that was sent out through rick joyner’s morningstar ministries, which has a huge following in american christianity. words cannot describe how disturbing i find this:
sojourners has put something out: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=action.display&item=HC09-main
here’s a great case study that really illuminates a lot of the inefficiencies and injustices in our current system:
I’m another Aussie, and I share Christine’s astonishment at the system you have in the US.
Not too many people know what is in the president’s plan or understand it. He even admitted not reading the bill. All we really hear or read are headlines and talking points from both sides of the issue. From what I have read, health care or even access to care doesn’t seem to be an issue but who should pay for it.
I am just going to isolate some verses that come to mind when I read “What is the best Christian, theological analysis of President Obama’s new health care proposals and plan?…” because since i didn’t read the 1000 pages i can’t really analyze the theology in it.
2 Thess 3:7-14 “…we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it…we worked night and day…so that we would not be a burden…’if a man shall not work, he shall not eat…
1 Corinthians 13 …love always protects
Mark 5:26 …she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors…
James 2:6… is it not the rich who are exploiting you? (i believe that today “the rich” can be replaced with politicians)
James 1:27…look after widows and orphans (i believe single moms can be considered the 21st century widow)
Paul speaks to the Corinthians about equality. He also boasts about being able to provide for himself.
Healthcare should be like education. If you want to pay for private, better care (or schooling), go for it. But otherwise it should be available to all.
I’ve seen very few theological arguments against health care being available for everyone. The ones out there all make the point that Christians shouldn’t rely on the government, that they should trust God not our elected officials.
Which is more or less an anti-government line of logic, with a Christian wrapper, that could be applied to anything, from National Parks to police protection to interstate highways.
I am mystified by the lack of a Christian response. Many denominations have called for reform, but at the human level what we are getting are violent protests against reform, and at least here in this Bible-belt state you can bet 80% of those protesters go to church every Sunday.
When Christians make death threats against the President of the United States to keep the poor from having health care, we ought to hang our heads in shame. It makes me want to leave the church.
I’m not entirely sure what you’re looking for when you say “theological” analysis. I don’t see theology proper having much to say on the issue, nor soteriology, pneumatology, or eschatology.
The closest I can come is anthropology, and from that standpoint, I think the plans we’re hearing about are pretty misguided. They ignore much we know about human behavior from both religious and non-religious sources.
For instance, health care is too expensive, so lets make sure it looks like it is free and a God-given right to everyone. Yeah, that‘ll bring costs down.
Or, the only way to improve our health care system is to put a small number of extremely powerful and completely unaccountable humans in charge of it. No way that can go wrong, right?
My biggest problem with this whole thing is how it’s being sold through exaggerations and lies. Travis’ comment (#16) is a perfect example: “Healthcare … should be available to all.”
It is. I have lots of patients who pay nothing. But many people have spent a lot of time and money convincing Travis (and many others) otherwise.
“The ones out there all make the point that Christians shouldn’t rely on the government, that they should trust God not our elected officials.
Which is more or less an anti-government line of logic, with a Christian wrapper, that could be applied to anything, from National Parks to police protection to interstate highways.”
And by this argument we can conclude that we should support a federalized solution to every problem we confront because to do otherwise would be to fall prey to anti-government logic with a Christian wrapper. Correct?
Throughout history, ethics was conceived in terms of relationship in face-to-face community. Macro societal and economic forces were seen as immutable forces of the gods or nature. Only in the past century or two have we become fully aware of our interconnectedness through large impersonal relationships.
Our human limitations confine our ongoing network of face-to-face relationships to maybe a little more than 100 people. In face-to-face networks we regularly encounter each other; we know each other’s character, abilities, dreams, and stories. That relationship creates accountability. We can correctly identify legitimate needs from self-destructive behavior and respond accordingly.
We can’t have this kind of relationship with millions of people. It is positively impossible for any person or entity to relate to millions of people on a personalized basis. The information simply isn’t there. No amount of empathy and good intentions is going to create it. Living by the Golden Rule is impossible because we can’t know how to justly do unto others if we don’t even know who the others are. Ethics at the level of impersonal relationships is of necessity governed more by issues of clear stable rules that are impartially applied.
There is a critical place and role for both types of relationships. Face-to-face communities create the possibility for actions specifically targeted to an individual by those who know, care for, and share accountability with each other. The need for mutually shared information makes this impossible beyond a few people. Large impersonal communities facilitate the coordination and cooperation of millions of people who have never met. But if the ethics used at this level were applied to face-to-face relationships, the world would be a cold hard place.
So the question is, concerning any problem we face, what is the role of face-to-face communities and impersonal communities in solving the problem? The Roman Catholic notion of subsidiarity suggests that problems are best solved in the caring face-to-face communities to which people belong, with the large impersonal communities playing a subsidiary role in support of what face-to-face communities can’t do for themselves. I embrace this.
The propensity to default to a government solution to every social problem that emerges is born of modernist impulse toward personal autonomy. It allows me to out-source (externalize) my care for others in face-to-face communities so I can be free to pursue my life unencumbered by this burden while patting myself on the back for my superior moral character in seeing that others are cared for. Meanwhile, care for individuals in our society that was once personalized, becomes depersonalized care delivered at the hands of a community driven by impersonal ethical considerations.
Finally, it was Modernism that led to the discovery of these impersonal macro relationships and thus the rise of fields like sociology and economics … with their grand visions of using objective science to uncover the nature of socio-economic forces and then place themselves before the society machine, adjusting the dials according to their superior, near omniscient, vision of the optimal society.
This predilection of defaulting to a government solution to every problem is Modernist hubris in a Christian wrapper. Rather than coming on bended knee before Caesar and Empire with a request to be absolved of caring for myself and community, I think it is better to critically reflect on the problem from a holistic stance.
The thing is that health care is basically free for most of us (that’s the big political obstacle the president is running up against). For someone with a good middle class job, health care costs rank very low on the scale of economic concerns because we pay so few of them directly.
For someone without a job that provides good health insurance, it becomes almost unaffordable. And, even if it is affordable, it comes with much less in terms of protection against preexisting conditions, etc.
That’s where the injustice is.
I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that, if theology doesn’t have anything to say about a subject with the inherent moral implications health care involves, it’s hard to see what good theology is.
As to which side is exaggerating in this debate, I suspect clicking on the links in anonymous21’s e-mail would shed some light on that matter.
Thanks for the context. I’ll take that under advisement.
Who said anything about “predilection of defaulting to a government solution to every problem”? Spare us the strawman, please.
And what evidence do you have that I, someone who believes that it is morally wrong to deny health care because of income is “pursu[ing] my life unencumbered by this burden while patting myself on the back for my superior moral character in seeing that others are cared for.”
I find that arrogant and insulting, frankly. I do not think you would say that to me in person.
Lack of public health care and abortion are identical, ethically. In both cases children die because it is less costly and more convenient.
You can find philosophical and economic arguments for tying everything from health care to education to justice to political representation to a person’s wealth, but you have a long way to go before you will convince me that Jesus would buy into that.
If you want to call that view “patting myself on the back for my superior moral character,” there you have a leg to stand on.
““Who said anything about “predilection of defaulting to a government solution to every problem”? Spare us the strawman, please.”
True. You said that everyone above who disagreed with your vision was guilty of “an anti-government line of logic, with a Christian wrapper.” That isn’t a strawman?
” I find that arrogant and insulting, frankly. I do not think you would say that to me in person.”
One of the big challenges with these blog conversations is the absence of all the non-verbal clues in our communication. I found your opening three sentences in #17 arrogant and insulting. That is what provoked my response. And I guarantee you that had this been face to face I would have interrupted you right there! One day I’ll learn but I should have just let this pass, so I’m sorry if my perception of your intent was incorrect.
“You can find philosophical and economic arguments for tying everything from health care to education to justice to political representation to a person’s wealth, but you have a long way to go before you will convince me that Jesus would buy into that.”
I haven’t the slightest clue what this has to do with anything I said above.
One of the first things I’ve got to do tomorrow is set up the radiation therapy for a homeless man. It’s not costing him a dime; you and I are paying for it.
The poor get care in this country.
Our system is definitely imperfect, but I have yet to hear one convincing argument that putting everyone into something like Medicare will solve any of our problems.
I don’t find it so complicated to think that in one way or another all American citizens should have access to health care, and that our country should be committed to that. That some don’t have ready access to what they need in life and death situations (I know a lady who split pills in half the doctor told her she had to have to live), and the same benefits others have such as annual physcials and at least annual dentistry, is to me troublesome. That there are clinics to be found to provide health care for the poor is good, but not accessible across the board.
I do believe governments do have a responsibility before God not just in how they treat other countries, but how they treat their own. Kings were shepherds in the ancient near east whose subjects in a sense were under their care. It’s tellling to me when a democracy is willing to letting people fall through the cracks due to poverty for whatever reason, or with whatever what to me seems to be rationalizations.
Now I know Christians are concerned for the poor who disagree on this. For myself, I just don’t believe that God cedes responsiblity for the poor solely to his people. I believe God will judge nations for how they care for their own. And on that count America I believe does not do nearly as well as it should be doing. And surely it’s a poor witness to say that we’re not willing to get less health care ourselves so that others can get better basic health care.
I would just like to point ChrisB, and I guess everybody else to this article from NPR:
If this doesn’t highlight injustice I don’t know what does.
I agree the current system is imperfect. I agree the proposed system would be imperfect. (And I’ve already conceded that the truly poor get health care in this country.)
My judgment is that the proposed system would (1) be more equitable and (2) get us closer to a situation where individual consumers have more control of their health insurance (although this varies depending on the particular plan; I like the Wyden-Bennett plan myself).
I have yet to hear anyone opposed to the health care reform proposals talk about an alternative that effectively addresses the situation I keep coming back to: someone who loses their job (or has a job that doesn’t provide health insurance) and gets diagnosed with cancer.
If the citizens of this country determine that Christians have a lot to say about, say, gay marriage, but nothing to say about whether someone with cancer receives quality health care, I’m afraid many of them are going to decide we’re not worth listening to.
@Joey, that article sounds like a great description of the Canadian health care system that many want to emulate here.
@Kyle, far too many act like the only choices are the system we have or one that ends up with a single-payer system. There are other choices.
I think we’re going to have to accept some government involvement, even though they screw up pretty much everything they touch (see my article above on Medicare). They may have to create or become an insurer of last resort for certain people, but if we don’t restrict them to last resort, we will end up in a system where the majority are in the poorly funded government health insurance and the richest pay for private are — unless they go the Canadian route and outlaw private insurance (remember, what we’re discussing today is only the first step, and most Democrats desperately want a single-payer system).
If we have an insurer of last resort and detach health insurance from the employer, especially if we can remove some of these ridiculous state regulations (e.g., infertility treatments), we can start to get costs under control.
ChrisB, your cheekiness falls short. It only hides the fact that there is a REAL problem with our healthcare system. There are too many people who go without. The truly poor DON’T have healthcare – even if you can point to a few examples of one-off situations where they get to see a doctor. Nothing in the current Health Care Reform Bill suggests a single-payer system and none of the reforms are even leaning that way. Single Payer is the straw man – pointing to Canada’s system is ridiculous considering there are 12 national healthcare systems that tower over ours in proficiency, affordability, and overall quality.
Just wanted to add my 2 cents worth. I am an American who moved to Canada when I was 26. I have now lived here for almost 17 years. I am a pastor of a Baptist Church in a small town in British Columbia. And I am appalled by what I see happening in the states – two things in particular. First, is the widespread misinformation about the Canadian system. It is not a perfect system, and if you look for the individuals who have had problems you will find them eventually. But they are the exception. I have never had a problem with getting top quality care. I have never been unable to choose my doctor. And I have never had to worry that someone I know, regardless of social or economic status, was going to not have the care the needed. Stop criticizing the Canadian system. It is one of the main reasons I do not want to return to live in the US. (If you really want to compare some data, try this article – http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/ezraklein_archive?month=04&year=2005&base_name=the_health_of_nations_oh_canad
The second thing that drives me nuts is the fact that Christians seem to often be the one leading the charge against this reform. I realize that often it’s not reform that they are against but the method of reform, but my usual interactions with Christians over this tend toward the “if a man doesn’t work he shouldn’t eat” passage. When you weigh this one text against all the prophetic passages about exploiting the poor it seems to me that we’re missing the boat. One of the things that I love about my current home (pagan though it be) is that it appears to me more Christ-like than the US in it’s care of the poor.
And one final thing, all of you who are saying the church should be doing this…I agree. But are you willing to lower your standard of living to pay the medical bills of the poor and needy muslims and homosexuals in your community? How would you actually facilitate that? Isn’t that what Jesus would have asked us to do…remember the dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house where He told us to invite (love and serve) those who could never repay us.
Sorry for the rant, but this is one American who thinks Canada has it together in regards to health care. One who is praying that something happens in America that leads it in this direction…
Joey, there was no cheekiness. That’s my honest assessment.
I’ll admit I’ve heard relatively little about health systems in non-english speaking countries, but Canada and Britain both have the same problems — insufficient funding, resources, and number of doctors. I don’t want a lottery in the US to see who gets a dentist, thank you.
Yes, there are lots of people in Canada who are happy with their system. And there are lots of people in the US who are happy with theirs. The outliers are the question. Who are unhappy in Canada? The ones who waited a year for the MRI that would have diagnosed the tumor in time to treat. Who are the unhappy in Britain? The young women denied pap smears by govt policy who are dying of cervical cancer. Who are the unhappy in the US? The ones who have to file bankruptcy after we save their lives.
No, our way isn’t perfect, but a single payer system (which many Democratic politicians including Obama are on the record saying 1. they want and 2. current plans are designed to lead to) is a great way to ruin the best health care system in the world.
You want free health care? Move to Canada. But you get what you pay for.
“Who are the unhappy in the US? The ones who have to file bankruptcy after we save their lives.”
This is a statement that I didn’t expect from you. It shows a level of intentional misinformation and failure to appreciate the depth of the problem that is not consistent with the thought that you usually put into things.
If you think that people – even middle class working people – are not denied care because of inability to pay – look again.
As one who has lived on both sides of the border I have to say (with all due respect) that you know not of what you speak. Don’t listen to the US media in their critique of Canada’s system. And as for that one Ontario lady who the republicans are throwing up as a poster child for the tragedy of the Canadian system, do a little digging. You’ll find out that there is more to the story. Her tumor was not terminal. Complaints in Canada are complaints with health care. Complaints in the US are about the lack thereof.
As I understand it, France and the Netherlands are much better comparisons than Canada and GB in terms of the kind of system the current proposal would result in.
In terms of the slippery-slope argument that the current reform plans would eventually lead to a single-payer system, I just don’t see it. In all likelihood, the Dems have as large majorities in Congress as you’re going to see right now. There will n doubt be adjustments to what’s adopted this year over time, but I can’t see substantial movement toward centralized government control comparable to what they have in Canada/GB (absent, I suppose, public opinion moving in that direction).
There are great arguments on either side of this issue and many aspects have been covered well here- care for the poor, Jesus’ concern for health, concerns over government intervention in care, etc.
Beyond these important points, I think people are neglecting two points. First, as we complain about our care and ask for governmental intervention to provide care for all, are we missing the bigger, more global problem. As we seek to spend some enormous amount on our health care, how many people around the world get little or no care at all. If we as Christians are most committed to the poor, shouldn’t we be arguing that any new funds being committed to health care would be sent abroad to provide clean drinking water, vaccinations, etc that could probably save far more lives?
Second, the reality is that the money simply isn’t there. We’re talking about a large expenditure and that’s the reality no matter who’s numbers you’re quoting. Now we seem to argue past this by saying it’s necessary, but we’re not spending funny money. If we buy something today, the money comes from tomorrow, with interest. That takes away from what future generations should have. And you can even link the argument to my first. If we’re borrowing money, a lot of it from places like China. So what’s a Christian to do when they realize that our borrowing in fact means money leaving a place where people in many parts of that country receive almost no medical care?
Just a couple of pieces that push us another step deeper. Hopefully I didn’t miss these arguments in the threads already.
The U.S. already spends more per capita on health care than any other developed nation, yet has the highest rates of uninsured and places 37th in infant mortality. Sure, some people get great health care. I’m one of them. And some people get NONE. Patients are at the whim of insurance companies that care nothing for people and only for their bottom lines. Physicians are not able to make decisions in the best interest of their patients. We pay enormous amounts for the uninsured using emergency rooms. There must be a better way. What it is, I’m not completely sure. But I know there must be a better way.