Monday, August 03, 2009


Our country is in the midst of another conversation about a huge question - Health care.

Like too many questions before it, and like this one in particular, the partisan political rancor on polar sides will get too loud and be too over the top to deal with the question at hand effectively.

Efforts to compromise for the sake of bipartisanship will make a hot or cold question lukewarm - palatable to none and causing more problems than it solves. The Revelation to John indicates what happens to the Church that is lukewarm, neither hot nor cold - God wants to spit them out. What will happen to lukewarm policy? Hmm. I think we all know.

Of course, when you're dealing with a paradigm shift - which is ultimately what is being proposed about health care, you have those who are so for it that they can't see straight, and those who are so against shifting from what is that their favorite hymn must be "We Shall Not Be Moved."

But that's how it is. We can talk "reform" all day long. And there may be some things that can be done to reform elements of how health care is administered under the current system. We can deal with frivilous lawsuits and cap awards, and do all those things that help the industry do what it does for less. But the fundamental question is always going to be the same, and any "reforms" enacted will be variations on a theme with small changes spun as huge and accounted for within business models amounting, in the end, to no harm, no foul - at least to the business sector.

For the common family? Further erosion of the number of those who can afford coverage.

That this question has been in front of every administration going back to Truman validates the magnitude of the divide.

At the crossroads of this issue is this - as long as health care is understood as a commodity and not as a right of citizenship, an unalienable right, if you will, then the battle line will always be drawn and the chasm too deep and wide to bridge.

Health care as a right---is you is, or is you ain't?

Somewhere I read of the American people that there are self evident truths of equality and ..."that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Now whether or not health care should be a commodity is not the point, just yet.

At present, it is.

Which is to say that it is an industry that exists to make a profit. That profit serves to support shareholders and employees in companies that provide the means for health care to be purchased. The service they provide and sell offers good product to those who can purchase it. That is, if they are sick, they are covered - maybe, at least in part, rarely in whole, and never without a long, interminable dance that you wonder will ever come to an end.

Health care is available now...for a price. And for more and more families, too steep a price for them to afford. For those of us who have it, and complain about how much it costs and what is or isn't covered, at least we have the luxury of complaining.

This is not a diatribe against free markets. The free market is the defining characteristic of our economic system. And if health care is to be and remain a commodity, then there it is...the market will out, and consumers we shall ever be. As long as we have the capacity to buy in, we're golden. When the well runs dry? Then, to call upon my Western Kentucky roots to find the right "earthy" response to such a predicament, you're S.O.L.

If health care is understood as a right, then the fundamental question is whether or not the free market doctrines should apply. Even more, if it is understood as a right, how can they apply?

So we'll have speeches, for and against. Insurance companies will be demonized and supporters of universal health care will be called . . . wait for it---socialists.

Rhetoric will be heated, and for what? Unless and until there is a clear answer to the question of whether or not access to health care is answered, it will all be of little import.

There are questions such as these that we answer because we are citizens of country. But we are also, and I daresay, first, citizens of the Kingdom of God.

What, then does our citizenship in God's family do to our perspective on geopolitical concerns? Does it impact our perspective? Should it?

I would argue it does. And when the affairs of the world are in conflict with the tenets of faith I've espoused, I have to ask myself why that is, and if God's justice is to be found, what am I really to do to enact it.

Beyond what having health care does or doesn't do for you, what are the theological implications of such a question? What is the impact of such policy decisions on the least of these - which, by the way, is the Biblical benchmark for what God considers right and just. And if you doubt that, I know some prophets of the Hebrew Bible named Isaiah, Amos and Micah and a Nazarene Carpenter named Jesus with whom you may argue the point.

Feel free. Go ahead.

What of our denomination? Has The United Methodist Church offered a position on the health care question? The first social creed of the denomination came into being in 1908. It focused much on the conditions that gave rise to an underclass of laborers as a result of the industrial revolution. It is a really bold statement given its historic context. There are elements of it as relevant today as then:

The Methodist Episcopal Church stands:
For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
For the principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.
For the abolition of child labor.
For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
For the suppression of the "sweating system."
For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical
point, with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the
condition of the highest human life.
For a release for [from] employment one day in seven.
For a living wage in every industry.
For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills.
To the toilers of America and to those who by organized effort are seeking to lift the crushing burdens of the poor, and to reduce the hardships and uphold the dignity of labor, this Council sends the greeting of human brotherhood and the pledge of sympathy and of help in a cause which belongs to all who follow Christ.

What of health care itself? The current position of the Church by virtue of the 2008 General Conference states the following:

Right to Health Care—Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and
spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came that they may have life, and
have it abundantly.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person
to whom health has been entrusted.
Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.
Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You have not
strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the
injured.” As a result all suffer.
Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines.
We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.
We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health
care. THE 2008 BOOK OF DISCIPLINE of The United Methodist Church

There it is. For a Church that fence straddles too many issues, this one does not seem lukewarm. And so, I invite you in the coming days of political grandstanding to listen less to radio blowhards and cable news pundits, and listen to the voice of the Spirit of the Living God. Where does that lead us?

Maybe at last to an answer.

1 comment:

Stefan M. said...

The biggest question for me revolves around economic effect. I firmly believe that it is in the best interest of everyone to have universal health care. However, I'm not sure what the best pathway will be to achieve that end. I certainly do not want to compound the economic difficulties at present simply to implement a new system rapidly. If we can reform the system without excessive harm to the economy, it would be very beneficial, but it remains to be seen if this is even possible at the moment. I am glad to know that health care is a serious point of debate now, but I can only hope that the solution to the problem will only be as hazardous as the problem itself.