Where is the “Christian” plan for meeting the healthcare needs of the poor?
The response of some high profile Christian leaders to the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been emphatic.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council declared, “Today’s Supreme Court decision will do serious harm to American families.” That organization’s Legal Counsel, Ken Klukowski, was even more bluntly alarmist: “Today, the American dream gave way to a real American nightmare.” The Alliance Defense Fund railed against the “cancer of ObamaCare,” declaring that “Never in America’s 236-year history has there been a more serious assault on your religious freedom.”
I believe that from a Christian perspective, such reactions are severely misguided.
Not that there are not elements of the ACA that are legitimate areas of concern. There are, and those concerns should be widely discussed and solutions for them developed. My issue is with the fact that in all the fulminations of conservative Christian leaders against the president’s healthcare initiative, never do I hear any serious consideration of alternatives.
Many conservative Christians seem to view the president’s efforts as simply a socialist attempt at a government takeover of health care, and they vigorously oppose it on that basis. What is not acknowledged is that there are serious deficiencies in our current healthcare system that the new law was designed to address. Literally millions of our fellow citizens are suffering great distress because they cannot afford the medical care they and their families need. I believe that given God’s explicit and oft-repeated injunctions in scripture about our responsibility to care for the poor, we as Christians should be more committed than anybody else in our society to effectively dealing with that issue. (See my series on Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor?).
In October of 2010, the Gallup organization reported on the health care gap between lower and higher income Americans.* In an analysis based on more than 200,000 surveys of adult Americans done earlier that year, they report that:
- One-third of low-income Americans are uninsured, and an even greater proportion say there have been times in the last year when they didn’t have money to pay for healthcare.
- The poor suffer from a much lower state of both emotional and physical health, have worse health habits, and have significantly less access to medical care.
- Low income people are significantly more likely than their higher-income counterparts to have been diagnosed with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, asthma, diabetes, and depression.
Gallup sums up their findings this way: “Low-income Americans face a ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem: Preventive care, effective treatment, and health education could all help improve their health and wellbeing, but they are the group that can least afford and has the poorest access to basic health services.” In other words, there is a real healthcare gap that affects millions of low income people in this country. The impact on families, and especially on children, of their inability to secure adequate medical attention is often devastating and sometimes lethal. This is the gap the ACA is designed to bridge.
The Gallup report says of the ACA, “The new healthcare law seeks to reduce income-related disparities in health outcomes on several different levels. Separate provisions will expand healthcare coverage and make it more affordable to more Americans, require insurance plans to provide preventive services at little or no cost, and infuse billions into new public health programs.”
Yet, the cry now being heard loud and clear from many conservative Christian leaders is “repeal ObamaCare!” Suppose that happens. Then what? Do we just celebrate a victory over the president, and move on? That would leave poor people to continue in the misery and life-threatening distress that lack of access to medical care imposes on them. And if the ACA is repealed without an effective alternative in place, that is exactly what will happen. The law would be gone, but the needs of low income families would remain. Our history as a nation clearly demonstrates that those who are now so dedicated to eliminating the ACA can be expected to have much less interest in replacing it, once it is gone, with something that achieves similar aims. After all, two years after the president’s law was passed (and decades after the issue was first raised), none of them has yet offered any serious alternative proposals.
That is why I believe it is biblically irresponsible for Christians and their leaders to advocate – in fact, fiercely agitate – for the destruction of President Obama’s healthcare plan without first offering a viable and effective alternative that addresses the needs “ObamaCare” was designed to meet.
Many Christians in our country evaluate the healthcare issue in light of their own access to health related resources, such as employer-provided insurance, Medicare, and Social Security benefits. From that place of personal comfort, it may not be apparent why programs designed to accomplish the aims of the president’s health care plan are important. But the Bible is very clear about God’s concern that the poor be cared for. It is not an obligation Christians can ignore. We have a biblical mandate to do everything we can to alleviate the suffering of our neighbors who don’t have access to the same resources we have.
That is why it is not enough for Christian leaders to simply decry the president’s efforts to make healthcare accessible to all Americans. To focus on destroying the new healthcare law without at the same time replacing it with something that, while being more politically palatable, also effectively meets the legitimate needs of the poorest of our fellow citizens is, in my view, simply wrong.
* Gallup defines low-income as less than $24,000 per year.