One of the issues that many people are debating is the relevancy of the church in this postmodern world. Relevancy has to do with speaking and acting on the issues and concerns that are most critical to people’s lives. I wonder what is more relevant for people’s lives than healthcare and, as a result, why the church is basically silent on this critical issue. This brings us to the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which common currency calls “Obamacare.” It is the measure that was passed into law to bend the curve on the crazy, outrageous, and inexorable rise in health costs (Patient Protection) and provide forty million people with healthcare coverage (Affordable Care).
The battle for the legitimacy and the propagation of the ACA is a clash for the quality of our American life together. It is about what kind of nation we are going to be and what the nature of the American social contract is. Will there be no safety net? In the richest country in the world, is it tolerable that we cannot provide people with the basic life necessity of going to the doctor for health care and prescription medication? I had a friend who died because he lost his job and his insurance and could not afford the medication. He did not have the money for the medication. We, his friends, did not know, or else we would have chipped in and bought it, but he said nothing, and he died for the lack of his medication. He should still be here. His family should still have the benefit of his kindness and gentleness.
What kind of nation are we going to be and what is the nature of our social contract? How is it that you can work your whole life and suffer a major illness and lose everything? My dad had a major medical situation that cost almost $400,000 dollars, and if not for Medicare, Medicaid, and supplemental insurance, it could have wiped out much of what they had worked their whole lives for. They worked, paid taxes, invested in this nation, and when he finally got sick, he had a safety net to make sure he did not have to lie in bed and worry about how he is going to pay for it as he is trying to get well. I believe that everyone deserves that right.
We have the only health care system in the world based on profit. Companies make a profit by covering the healthy and denying coverage to as many sick people as possible. How many people have had to fight with insurance companies about the limits that the insurance company imposes on their medical situation? How many people have been denied healthcare based upon pre-existing conditions? How many have seen their raises and benefits swallowed up in increased healthcare costs that seemingly cannot be controlled? How many people will not go to the doctor because they cannot afford it, and then land up in the emergency room? We are all paying for an emergency visit that probably could have been prevented. Just like we pay for uninsured drivers in our car insurance coverage, we pay for the uninsured healthcare in the cost of medical care.
The truth of the matter and the deepest issue is that the ACA depends on a social compact in which those who are healthier and richer are willing to help those who are sicker and poorer. The ACA depends on richer and healthier people paying higher taxes to finance health insurance for lower income and sick people. We are becoming a vastly unequal society where our “trickle-down economics” in the last 30 years have allowed most of the gains in wealth and income to go to the people at the top. For me, it is only right that those with higher incomes bear some responsibility for Americans who are less fortunate. This is a fundamental argument about who we are and what we owe each other; how we can provide a social safety net such that no one needlessly falls.
I have noticed that much of the commentary that I hear about ACA is from people who have insurance. I regularly Tweet pundits and ask, “Are there some people who do not have healthcare who could be invited to the show to speak from their perspective?” People who do not have healthcare are virtually silent in this debate. It is the role of the church to speak for the voiceless. Why is the church so silent on its responsibility to speak for the voiceless? Many say that they do not want to get into politics from the pulpit. This is not a primarily a political issue, but a moral issue that has political expression. The church is called to speak to the moral issues of our time. Until someone comes up with a better plan, even with all of its warts and flaws, I unequivocally support the ACA because we are called to care for those that do not have. If you have better, then bring it to the table; if not, improve what is on the table.
Some have labeled the ACA as “redistribution of wealth.” I thought it was that we have the moral obligation to help somebody. And so the question is asked, why would I pay more so that others can have? Why would I who am healthy pay more for people who are old, poor, and sick? Because this is how I was raised: if I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain.
More in the next blog post about preaching on the moral issue of health care.
Frank A. Thomas is the director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration and the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary.
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