Towards a hermeneutic of healthcare 3

First to put a few things into what I hope is some perspective about my views on this subject. Preliminary to the preliminaries is the fact that I readily confess that economics is not my bailiwick, so I cannot really offer any viable solutions because I know enough to know that I do not know the practical impact of such policies. That being said…

  • There can be no debate about the fact that there are millions of Americans without healthcare1 and even more with healthcare that, should something dramatic were to happen, would not cover necessary costs.
  • As Christians we are called to care for the poor, to provide clothing, food, and healing to those without. This is not debatable either and the biblical citations would just be too many so I will not bother.
  • Something must be done, from whatever perspective one approaches the issue.

The question is, what is the best answer? What interests me most now is how some of my biblioblogging (or at least biblioblog reading) colleagues are assessing the situation. I have written previously on this topic and I have found the comments very thought provoking and interesting. Most recently  I posted a video that compared wait times for appointments between Atlanta and Boston (Boston because MA has a “universal” healthcare plan such as Obama is proposing) There are lots of reasons to criticize the video and it presents only one view, to be sure, but I posted it to illicit comment for my edification (selfish, perhaps) and it has done and I thank you all for that.2

Apparently it has also cost me a reader which is unfortunate but part of the risks we take. This blog has always been and will always be a reflection of me and my interests which are broader than just biblical or rabbinic studies. Thus we encroach upon politics here and I post comics often (and sometimes, like now, both at once!). I make no apologies for that, but I do value your reading and your comments, so can we dig down a bit deeper on this question of a “Christian” approach to healthcare?

Several people have now criticized my implicit questioning of a federally run (i.e., taxpayer funded) healthcare program by saying things like “it is not Christian to support a system that does not care for the poor” or that as a Christian “question number one” of any system is what kind of care poor people will receive.  I agree with the standard but I ask, how is it applied? Is “how are the poor cared for” the litmus test for any society (and any element of a society)? We can move beyond healthcare and apply that rubric to our banking system, our schools, our churches… That seems to me a kind of prosperity Gospel placed on its head and of course in the Gospels Jesus was not calling for a reform of the contemporary government, he was calling for a reform of the people.3

One of the things that interests me about these sorts of arguments (a Christian should support government funded X plan since it cares for the poor) is that the folks who put this forward are often the same people who argue against those who would make this a “Christian nation.” We are to keep religion out of politics, after all we cannot “legislate morality” (a phrase popular in the late 90s, ignoring the fact that all law is legislated morality on some level) or impose our religious views on others. And yet…now we are to legislate universal healthcare because it is the Christian thing to do?

I could similarly critique those who want to keep the status quo and/or simply keep the government out of providing healthcare (or health insurance, why don’t we talk about that distinction enough?). Again, I DO think that we, as Americans not just those who are Christians, need a better system that will help cover as many of our citizens as possible as efficiently as possible. Efficiency aside, I think only the federal government can make something like this work. The devil is, of course, in the details and those always get mangled making their way through Congress.

In the end I suppose that all of this rambling is a fledgling attempt to come up with a consistent hermeneutic for considering government funded programs that benefit the poorest among us. As you can see by now I haven’t even begun to form such a hermeneutic, principles that would guide our reading of Scripture to inform our policy making. More thinking is required and I hope you will help. Perhaps then another post will be more coherent and articulate.

  1. According to this site, citing a 2007 government report, 48 million. []
  2. BTW some commented that the video was rubbish because it was comparing a state to a city, but having viewed it 3 more times to check, I don’t see that the video is doing that at all. Can someone tell me how they came to that conclusion? []
  3. It seems to me that this is the general approach to the founding of the US. The government was to protect and preserve while the people themselves, through organizations such as churches, provided care for one another. []

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3 thoughts on “Towards a hermeneutic of healthcare

  • Drew Tatusko

    I think this whole issue boils down to where one draws the line between the degree of restrictions a government ought to apply to corporate entities. That many people are denied care by insurance companies who do not want to float already costly healthcare treatments is true. You can’t make money if you are basically giving it all to someone else. That drug companies and insurance companies work together to increase their profits is also true. That again is sound business and any company would do it in order to boost profits – especially if it is legal.

    The problem is that we have so many myths about where health care should come from and what is good or bad. That we have lower indices of life expectancy and infant mortality compared to higher costs per person than other post-industrial nations is a truism. That the US is the only post-industrial nation along with perhaps South Africa not to provide a system of universal healthcare is also true.

    Putting just these two pieces together should tell us that the current system does not make much sense. We are not getting what we pay for. So if government is not the solution, what is the solution to help us and our companies who are forced to front high bills in fringe for employees to cover health care costs to stay competitive to stop getting ripped off? the first thing that has to happen is some kind of cost control before we can talk about universal coverage which is as unsustainable as the current costs seem to be.

  • steve

    Not feeling as thoughtful today, but I have to point out that Drew’s line “That we have lower indices of life expectancy and infant mortality compared to higher costs per person than other post-industrial nations is a truism.”

    Well-it isn’t. A truism is something so obvious that it does not need to be stated.

    I am willing to bet (seriously–anyone in for a dollar?) that the average person on the street will not “know” this truth. Heck, I am not convinced of it either.

    A little more thoughtful though–if the problem is our “insurance” companies don’t have enough cash to cover those instances when higher expenses are incurred, then let’s allow health insurance to actually “act like insurance.” Let’s allow insurance companies to charge each individual a rate that is based on their likelihood of requiring care. Thus, if you have AIDS, or some other high-cost condition, expect to pay more. A lot more. (You are a risky driver? You pay higher car insurance. You have a fire supression system and burglar alarm in your house–you pay less.)

    Okay–I don’t like that one either. It’s seems wrong on many levels (even though it is exactly what we allow with life insurance and all the others.)

    So here’s a thought–let’s run everyone’s costs up to meet the average. (and since it is the average, it is I hope a truism that the sum of all payments will equal the sum of all costs.) If we do this everyone will pay more, but everyone will have everything covered.

    Of course, the second one will only work if we mandate that everyone must also PAY for healthcare. You will not be able to “opt out.” (And remember, unlike auto insurance which is also “mandatory” if we own a car, we can’t simply choose to “not own a life/health”)

    At times it seems that “government owned and operated” is the best answer. Not because it will give us healthcare that is “better” and not because it will reduce costs (has it ever?) but simply because we all can feel that we now can “blame the government” and now it’s “not our fault.”

    • Drew Tatusko

      i’d like to look more closely at japan’s model frankly. they have driven costs down to very low levels (some might argue too low since some hospitals in recent years have been facing bankruptcy issues). yet they maintain private management of the system. the government just has a different philosophy that health is a public service rather than a corporate system to make money as a priority.

      steve, if you can find data that justifies the aggregate life expectancy and infant mortality to cost among us citizens versus others, i am all ears. but i think you will find that not very forthcoming. from what i can tell it’s a fact. and should be a truism among americans. even then i am not confident the fact that people are getting ripped off and companies are feeding a flawed system will provoke people to demand change.