Jesus and Healthcare Reform

By John Blake at CNN.com:

OK, I want to say just two things: to implicate Jesus in this debate requires patient study of ancient culture, the texts of the Gospels, and it also means we have to understand how the economy works. It’s not a simple “Jesus gave to the poor so vote for health care.” But.. but… but…

Jesus clearly showed a preferential option for the poor in his social vision; those who were marginalized he included. And Jesus clearly pushed hard against the rich who oppressed and who were not generous with the poor. Hence, the rich man and Lazarus parable in Luke 16. So to those who say “care belongs in the private sector” or those who say “care belongs with the federal government,” the bigger question is this: What are you doing about it with the poor at your gate? Something must be done.

Would Jesus support health care reform?

(CNN) – He was a healer, a provider of universal health care, a man of compassion who treated those with preexisting medical conditions.

We don’t know what Jesus thought about the individual mandate or buying broccoli. But we do know how the New Testament describes him. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus physically healing the most vulnerable and despised people in his society.

References to Jesus, of course, didn’t make into the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s hearings on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Yet there is a moral dimension to this epic legal debate:

How should the nation help its “least of these,” an estimated 50 million Americans who can’t afford health insurance, as well as those who could go broke or die because they can’t afford medical care?

Christians are as divided about this question as others. Many cite Jesus, but come up with completely different conclusions.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • art

    I fear our cultural hatred (deliberately chosen word) of government is stronger than the commandment to love our neighbor as much as Jesus loved us.

    Which is a shame, because government is an institution created by God by which we do things together that we cannot do alone. But we see government as evil, and therefore suffer the consequences.

    Per a 2009 Johns Hopkins study, a child whose parents do not have insurance is 60% more likely to die of a given condition than one whose parents have insurance.

    If we really wanted to reduce abortions, we’d offer universal health care. Now we force mothers in poverty to choose between begging for charity, bankruptcy, abortion, or giving their child away to a wealthier family.

    Churches are not the answer. A few rounds of chemo would bankrupt just about any church I’m familiar with.

  • JoeyS

    I don’t write in my blog very often but last Monday, something happened that brought this debate over healthcare close to home. Too many people have too little care: http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/im-sorry-we-failed-you/

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Given the overwhelming evidence that we pay far more w/ our private system for lower quality of care, with erratic & sometimes inaccessible coverage, there seems to be no reasoned and reasonable causes not to advocate for national health care. There is another agenda at work, here, and from my spiritual POV, that agenda is a judgment produced out of our selfish & self-worshiping materialism.

  • Robin

    This paragraph doesn’t make any sense in the US context.

    “If we really wanted to reduce abortions, we’d offer universal health care. Now we force mothers in poverty to choose between begging for charity, bankruptcy, abortion, or giving their child away to a wealthier family.”

    We already have universal coverage for pregnant women in this country. It is called Medicaid. If you know a woman who is poor and pregnant, tell her to go sign up for Medicaid, she is eligible, right now.

    Healthcare reform isn’t about poor, pregnant women, or children, or even poor families. It is about poor people who don’t have children, and the working poor (people who work at places like Target, but don’t have insurance).

    Everything about Healthcare Reform was meant to provide insurance to those two specific groups, either by giving them subsidies, holding a tax penalty over their head, or expanding Medicaid to them.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    FWIW, my relatives who are medical providers strongly advocate for health care reform, and have all the logical & factual ammunition to back it up. We have another relative who works as an attorney in health care law. He thinks there’s too much money at stake for the powerful insiders to lose for change to take place, and as long as democratic processes are hamstrung by false info & flashy & fearful anti-gov’t advertising (per art’s point), it won’t happen. He’s a multimillionaire due to his complicity w/ the current system. That’s a lot of incentive to work against reform.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    JoeyS, thank you for telling Randy’s story. We have far, far too many neighbors who are in similarly dire straits. They shouldn’t have to die to experience healing care. I’m thankful you and your church were Christ to him here, insofar as you were able.

  • Steve Sherwood

    I don’t know that Jesus would love the Affordable Healthcare Act, but I feel even more strongly that the system we have now is not God honoring.We might differ as to how to live out God’s preferential option for the poor, but it seems impossible to argue from scripture that the poor are not profoundly on the heart of God. Whatever the way forward is, it must be better than what we in the U.S. have now.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Yes, hopefully the government will be limited in its scope and power in regard to health care. But the government (“we the people”) should facilitate a system in which everyone has affordable health care access. The big problem in the United States in my view is the gap between those who have good health care and those who don’t. Some individuals and families can’t afford to have regular checkups and work done for preventive care, which many of us (more or less) take for granted.

    I think God does judge societies in terms of how they treat each other. We Christians speak into this society, and we do so from different views as to the role of government. I wish we would agree as a nation that affordable health care should be a given for everyone. From the unborn to those about to die.

    In the meantime the church should do what we can. We have to practice what we preach. In other words we must be active in supporting that which will help the poor to get access to needed care.

    This is such a huge and difficult subject, to be sure. I say very little here, I’m sure.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am sick of people saying, like Ted said, “hopefully the government will be limited in its scope and power in regard to health care”. I know you advocated for health care Ted, but anyone who is “in” the repub group will read your comment and think to themselves that the limiting scope of government is way more important than giving health care to the sick. We need to have everyone stop stoking that fire.

    I work with banks a lot (actually I am officially unemployed as of today…), and around 60% of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills. Truthfully, many of us are one illness away from bankruptcy. It is not a bunch of lazy people, it is people getting sick!

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    DRT, I would hope those who are Republicans would want the same thing, but have a different way of arriving at that. I know there are those Republicans who do not believe it should be a given, but I would want to hear them out. One way or another, I think it should be a given, myself.

    All I’m saying is that I favor the least amount of government and regulation possible, but I don’t believe health care for everyone will occur apart from government being involved and regulating.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    …I’m referring to affordable health care. Though I myself would be happy with universal health care in which we would all pay something (tax) so that all would be covered. But it does get complicated, though maybe it’s because we dislike the concept in the first place and want to throw it out due to something we disagree with in it (like support for abortions, hopefully that would be avoided. but do we live in a world in which everyone is going to agree with us? of course not.)

    If we can have a combination of free enterprise along with government regulation, maybe that’s the ideal. I don’t know. I’m not any kind of expert on economics, and have much more respect for the thinking of those more on the conservative end of things, after reading Michael Kruse’s thoughts on economics.

  • TJJ

    To say it is either Obamacare or the current system is a false choice/premise. Most agree reforms/changes are needed, and there are others ways to do it. But it needs to be done right, it needs to be bipartisan, and it needs to include tort reform as well as changes to metacare, metacaid, and social security and it can’t bankrupt our nation with debt that can’t ever be paid.

  • http://www.twitter.com/neverinside Tom B.

    While in seminary I was helping a Bosnian teenage refugee with an infant that needed help. The infant’s father was out of the picture and the teenager’s father was allegedly, an alcoholic who was violent toward his daughter. She and her infant needed food, financial assistance, transportation, a new living situation, healthcare, etc. Since I was connected to numerous churches, I attempted to work with them (all evangelical) to see if I could get any volunteers to help me take care of her. Not one church helped, yet all of them sent her to the government. I eventually dropped the ball as well, as I became burned out of her calling me “too often.”

    Do we require a reality check? Numerous fellow Christians abstractly explain to me that the church should be taking care of the poor and not the government; ironically, they are simultaneously sending the poor to the government to acquire healthcare and financial aid. Why is that in practice, many of us evangelicals send the poor to the government, yet, politically we don’t want to transform and fund the government to provide the care which we’re already sending the poor to use?

  • JohnM

    Tom B. #13 – “Why is that in practice, many of us evangelicals send the poor to the government, yet, politically we don’t want to transform and fund the government to provide the care which we’re already sending the poor to use?”

    That’s actually two good questions in one. a) Why do we send the poor to the government? b) Why don’t we want to transform and fund the government?

    I think part of the answer to both questions is that we assume we already are funding the government (or someone is) and that the government doesn’t first need to be transformed, but rather the government mechanisms to help the poor are already in place. After all, we wouldn’t be sending anyone to the government if we didn’t take it for granted the government could and would help.

    Supposing it is a circumstance in which government aid is forthcoming, are churches still all wrong in taking the kind of approach you describe? Not a dismissive question, I promise you, but an honest one.

  • Dan Arnold

    Robin (#4), thanks for commenting! I’ve missed your perspective on this blog.

  • Edward Vos

    When we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves is that command a mandate from God to love one another?

  • Edward Vos

    What is causing us to go bankrupt in this country is the continual lowering of taxes for the wealthy. $7.9 trillion of our current debt came from 2 presidents, Reagan and W. Bush.

    Lower taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs. It does however reduce your revenue stream like loosing your second source of income in what was a two income family.

    The reason we are so in debt in this nation is not because we help the poor with entitlement programs. it is because we have lowered taxes to such an extent that entitlements are now a subject of concern. How come the jobs that were supposed to be created by the tax cuts aren’t the issue?

    Why do we automatically assume it is the government’s for giving handouts to those in need even when it comes to health care! What about the handouts we give to the rich!!!!

  • Anna

    Robin,

    Medicaid pays so little that it is hard to find a healthcare providers who will accept it. Doctors are not required to accept it, and many don’t.

  • Robin

    Anna,

    You have just pointed out the crux of the problem with any type of universal payment program. Medicaid does indeed pay very low reimbursement rates…relative to private insurance.

    In Western Kentucky, if you want a dentist who will accept Medicaid for children you have to drive to Louisville (2-5 hours away).

    However, even at these paltry reimbursement rates, and even with the federal government picking up the tab on 75% of the bills, it is still accurate to say that Medicaid is bankrupting our state. It is by far the quickest growing budget item in our state, and while other programs have been cut by 30-40% it still grows, uncontrollably.

    Our state hasn’t had “tax cuts for the rich” either. We recently raised rates on people with higher incomes. And if you look at any future projections for the federal budget they are all the same…Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are expected to grow uncontrollably until they squeeze out all other spending.

    The only way a universal coverage system would work…well I guess there are two ways, you could dramatically raise taxes on everyone, or you could force providers to accept reimbursement rates that make current Medicaid rates seem luxurious.

    My understanding about current universal coverage countries is that they (mostly) achieve coverage by paying the doctors what would be considered paltry sums by American medical standards…and that they can get away with this because they provide medical school free of charge, etc. It is also my understanding that this is why so many foreign doctors decide to relocate here to work.

    I think the bottom line is that in order for a universal coverage scheme to work the entire system of service delivery is going to have to look much, much different.

  • Robin

    As an example of what I meant, here is a snippet from the NYT

    They are trying to get at the question “in each country, what do doctors make relative to the rest of the population?” They tried to adjust for different standard of living using a purchasing-power index, which is set so that $1,000 (adjusted) would by the same bundle of goods in each country.

    So what their results are really saying is that the “average” doctor in the US can purchase about 50% more stuff that the average doctor in Canada or almost 200% more stuff than the average doctor in France.

    I don’t think French or Canadian doctors are panhandling by any means, but I do think that they are much closer, in terms of income, to the average Frenchman or Canadian, than are American doctors.

    I sincerely believe that if you wanted to switch to a SUSTAINABLE universal coverage model one of the main problems would be significant cuts to physician salaries. I mean it just makes sense, if you want the type of coverage that France and Canada have, then you have to change the entire system to more closely resemble theirs.

    http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/how-much-do-doctors-in-other-countries-make/

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Ted #10

    Thanks for your comment. I know of few people who believe in either anarchy or totalitarianism. Most of us are on a continuum between the two. Some of us may see a more aggressive role for gvmt in one place and see a significantly lessened role in another. If we really want solutions, then we have to get beyond the populists soundbites (ex “They hate gvmt!” “They are communists”) and think holistically about society in which gvmt is a vital institution with a specific role.

  • http://www.lambpower.net Steve D

    Robin,

    Medicaid is not what Universal Health Care would look like. Medicaid is a source of last resort for healthcare. A better example of Universal Health Care in this country would be Medicare. The biggest problem with both Medicare and Medicaid is that they are subject to the budgetary whims of the Congress and (in the case of Medicaid) state legislators.

    As to physician’s salaries, the biggest problem is that there is a huge pay disparity. Some surgeons and high end specialists can easily make of seven figures. On the other hand, primary care physicians may, in some cases, not even break six figures. However, we lack enough primary care physicians to make any system work efficiently.

  • Robin

    Steve D,

    Whether we are discussing Medicare or Medicaid, the budgetary problem remains. Medicare reimbursement rates are not luxurious, but they are still consuming an ever-growing portion of the federal budget.

    Worse, they are literally impossible to reign in because of the political hit that comes with altering medicare benefits. Healthcare reform included a role-back in Medicare advantage which the president intended to eliminate benefits which were more expensive, but not demonstrated to be worth the extra cost. Seniors went ballistic.

    Much worse is the “doc fix.” We passed a reduction in Medicare reimbursement rates in 1997 in order to try and control medicare spending. Whether this was a good or bad policy is besides the point, for 15 straight years we have passed 1-year legislation passing the cuts into the next year.

    We don’t have the political will to do anything to make Medicare less costly, and without that type of will it would destroy the budget. This is one area where the parliamentary form of government seems far superior to our electoral system. We simply don’t have the backbone for hard decisions, whether it is eliminating the Bush Tax Cuts, raising taxes on the wealthy, or restraining popular, but expensive programs.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Robin, it sounds like an absolutely wonderful idea to pay for MD’s school expense and the make payment of reasonable charges the norm, and expand coverage to more people. That sounds like a wonderful situation. Do you disagree?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I would like to offer color on my views.

    I am related to a few doctors and nurses, and my wife used to do medical billing and collections for rather high end anesthesiologists and a cardiac surgeon.

    My assessment is that many (most) go into medicine for the right reasons, and we have a good crop of doctors and nurses out there. And that is part of the problem.

    Med school is quite difficult financially as well as dedication wise. And once you are an MD, it dominates your life since you pretty much are on call 24×7.

    Most industries have specialized a bit more, but, imho, we are caught in the viscous cycle of requiring affluent people to take care of us and then only allowing affluent to get into school and only allowing etc etc.

    Let’s face it, when my life is at stake I want someone who knows what they are doing to take care of me!

    Yet, we all trust corporate america to feed us, advertise what we should eat, promote sedentary lifestyles etc. And this view cascades into the medical culture with the idea that the doctors will fix what is wrong with us. The problem, of course, is that the “what is wrong with us” is our lifestyle.

    We again what doctors that will not tell us we are stupid and fat and lazy, and instead will suck the fat from our mid sections while giving us pills to make us feel good about ourselves.

    In short, we (capitalism), do not work when it comes to health care because we do not think long term, as a species.

    So when we fight about doctor shortages and whether people will get enough care from the scarce resources (as Robin is saying with regard to dentistry), it is in fact the abundance of resources that cause our problem. We can buy any doctor that tells us what we want to hear and then buy one to fix the problems that causes. We are sick. We need to get better.

    The solution is strategic and we don’t think strategically.

  • Robin

    DRT,

    I think the model you mentioned would be preferable, I just don’t think we have the will, currently, to get there.

  • http://www.lambpower.net Steve D

    Robin

    The problem is that you are using Medicaid and Medicare as interchangeable terms. Medicaid is funded through state programs, Medicare is an exclusive federal program.

    I agree that we need to contain medical costs, but I don’t think that this can be unilateral. Just cutting payments to doctors doesn’t fix the real issue since doctors are not obligated to accept Medicare or even insurance. Frankly, I believe that some of the solution has to be in cutting overhead. Insurance, drug manufacturers, and medical equipment manufacturers all tend to see the US as their cash cows. We have one of the most expensive health care systems that isn’t quite as good as it should be. We pay the most, but simple don’t get the bang for the buck that we should.

  • Wyatt

    DRT proposed nothing but a strategic solution. Not sure what that is. Robin agrees with it but what is it? I think Robin favors a governmental soultion. Steve D says we should cut overhead. What is that? he also mentions our health care system isn’t quite a good as it should be. What does that mean?

    The US provides some of the best medical care in the world. Why do so many people come from around the world to the US to get good medical care and treatment? Becasue too many other countries have very little to offer when it comes to adequate medical care. This is one of the only countries in the world that will give you free medical care if you need it. They aren’t going to let you bleed to death in an ER if you don’t have insurance. ANd the issue really is health insurance not health care. They are not the same.

    But one thing is certain, gov’t will not fix our problem. It will make health insurance more expensive for everybody (it already has), the quality of care will be second or third rate. But if gov’t takes over, we will have a serious health care problem too and we all rue the day.

  • Fish

    Actually I believe that more people leave the US for treatment than come here. People come here to be treated by specialists for rare and expensive forms of cancer and such. We have the most expensive country in the world for health care, though, so there’s no reason for anyone to leave a developed country to come here for anything remotely routine.

    If you’re talking about people from Mexico, the only other developed nation without universal health care, sure, maybe they are sneaking across the border to go to the ER. Good luck to them. There’s not a lot of chemo or mammograms dispensed at the ER.

    I’ve talked with several people who’ve had health care in Europe and they to a person were very satisfied. Another guy broke his shoulder on his honeymoom in Thailand, had surgery there to put pins in, and then flew back to have the followup done because it was far less expensive and he liked the quality of care. We do not have a monopoly on good doctors and equipment and treatment.

    In the only rankings I can find, the World Health Organization, I believe we ranked 36th overall.


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