Faith and Health Care Reform 

by Brad Cotton

 (published 4 Aug Circleville Herald)

 One's value as a human being has absolutely no correlation with one's economic status. Yet in the US health care system one lives or dies depending on one's economic "success".  What is "success" as a child of God? In the course of working in the ER I've met thousands of our neighbors working two or more jobs, sacrificing for their kids, yet they have no health insurance. They die younger as they can't see a physician, can't afford their meds. They are wonderful souls, they fix our cars, greet us at Wal-Mart, cut our hair- they deserve care. The evil, malignant death-dealing "invisible hand" of the market kills them in front of their children.

 

  R. H.  Tawney in his work "Religion and the Rise of Capitalism" exhaustively documents how Christianity adapted to the amoral, if not outright immoral values of cash and the marketplace:   "A society which reverences the attainment of riches as the supreme felicity will naturally be disposed to regard the poor as damned in the next world, if only to justify itself for making their life a hell in this." Sounds like the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 before he realized that in refusing care to Lazarus, he condemned himself to Hell.

 

Jesus in Matthew 25:40 makes it eminently clear that how we treat the sick and unfortunate among us is how we treat God himself--and we shall be condemned goats if we don't recognize Jesus when he comes to the ER without health insurance. We have seen a lot of wailing that the US is morally degrading itself by recognizing that gay persons, just like all the marginalized welcomed by Jesus, are close to God's heart. Ezekiel 16:49 tells us gays had nothing to do with the destruction of Sodom, it was rather failing to expand Medicaid, failing to guarantee a living minimum wage and asking that the undocumented immigrant among us pick our vegetables for spare change that brought God's thermonuclear anger: "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She was arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." Scorched earth and melted sand, not for failing individual responsibility, as conservatives like to believe, but for failing collective, that is, governmental responsibility.

 

The US health care system is Luke's rich man, Matthew's goats and Sodom's selfishness. To become sick in the US is to be beaten and robbed and abandoned along the Jericho road. Jesus' point in the Parable of the Good Samaritan was that we are all neighbors, and that even a despised Samaritan (for today read gay, Muslim, undocumented immigrant) was in fact closer to the Kingdom of God than a high-status Priest or Levite. Conservative economics claims that in fact self-seeking alone is moral, neighbors be damned, we have no moral duties owed anyone save ourselves.  The Affordable Care Act just forces the highwaymen health insurers, pharmaceutical firms, even many "non-profit" hospitals to put on sheep's clothing over their wolf character.

 

Wolf in sheep's clothing?  Read this sampling of three (out of thousands of citations available) articles re: hospitals, pharmaceutical profits and the corporatization of health care , turning care-givers into cash-flow generators. Lisa Schenker's “Not-for-Profit Hospital's Tax Exemption Case Could Signal Trouble for Others” (“Modern Healthcare”8 July) notes “The ruling comes at a time when not-for-profit hospital's tax exempt statuses are under increased scrutiny amid concerns that some are acting more like for-profit entities, especially when it comes to overly aggressive debt collection from poor patients.” Physician Philip Caper laments in “How the Affordable Care Act Fuels Corporatization of American Health Care" (Bangor Daily News 27 Nov. ’14) “We now have a situation where patients are losing confidence in their doctors, while doctors are losing confidence in our ability to do the right thing for our patients. We have a health care system becoming more hostile to doctors and patients and more friendly to health care corporations.  These trends are collateral damage caused by another trend: our increasingly corporatized commodified and commercialized health care “industry" … doctors see our clinical autonomy disappearing as more and more of us become corporate employees subject to pressure to meet corporate financial goals that often differ from what is best for our patients… Patients sense that pressure as they are rushed through exams… They can almost hear the cash registers ringing.” Gagnon and Wolfe from the Carleton University School of Public Policy and Administration detail how the Republican passed Medicare Part “D” drug benefit prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug prices, that forcing you to pay whatever the pharmaceutical company asks is Jericho Road robbery. (“Medicare Part “D" pays needlessly high brand-name drug prices compared with other OECD countries and with US government programs.”23 July)

 

Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers and invited everyone to the Great Banquet. (Luke 14). US health care, indeed all injustice, makes God cry.

 

 

( Dr. Cotton spoke last week at the annual regional gathering of Quakers in Blufton, Ohio. To schedule a powerpoint presentation on morality and health care reform go to www.circlevillefriendsworshipgroup  .org . Contact information is on the first page.)