Health Care And The Responsibility Of The Church

The Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday that President Obama’s health care bill is Constitutional, besides coming as a surprise, has stirred up considerable discussion, some vitriolic and some jeering, depending on which side of the issue a person falls.

I have a tangle of thoughts that I haven’t sorted out yet. Maybe I can do that here.

First, I believe President Obama’s intention is to right a wrong. It’s wrong, for example, for insurance companies to deny coverage to people once they get sick. It’s also wrong for medical costs and insurance rates to be so high poor people can’t afford insurance and small businesses can’t afford to offer that benefit to their workers.

One of the arguments for this health bill is that the uninsured cost the rest of society because medical professionals must raise their rates on everyone else in order to make up what they lose treating those without insurance.

Here’s where I think things have gone astray. Once, doctors didn’t expect to get rich by practicing medicine. They understood that their time was not their own and that they might get paid in eggs over weeks and weeks, if at all. That was OK with them because they saw their job as a service to the community. They were willing to work sacrificially for the good of others.

All that’s gone. Now doctors and hospitals and pharmacies and insurance companies are in business. It’s all about making money.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are some dedicated doctors and nurses out there, doing what they can within the system. But by and large, the health profession has changed from a helping profession to a lucrative one. As far as I’m concerned, it’s wrong for individuals or a corporation to get rich off the misery of others. Insurance companies, if we’re to use them, ought to be non-profits. But it’s probably too late to close that barn door.

That’s not all that went wrong, I don’t think. Health insurance has reduced the sense of obligation for a neighbor to look out for those in his community.

Years ago a friend of mine was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had good health care, but as a single, unable to work for a time, her disability insurance only went so far to cover her rent, utilities, food, and the like. Her church and the Christians she worked with rallied around her, and she told me that the months when she was unable to teach, she actually made more money than when she was working. Christians stepped up to care for her much the way Scripture instructed believers to provide for widows.

Insurance or no insurance, believers are supposed to care for one another and to help the poor. But more and more, the government is stepping in to do what the Church is supposed to do. Has government taken on the role of providing for the needy because believers no longer live in obedience to the Word of God?

I suppose it’s futile to try and figure out what caused the breakdown of the Church’s role as the primary resource for the poor. I have to believe, however, that “universal” health care will only increase this trend. Who will think to help his co-worker who is going in for surgery? That’s what we have insurance for, isn’t it?

And how will individuals learn to trust God in the crunch of adversity? We have insurance now. Our trust is in the government programs.

Except, the reality is, government programs fail.

This week the city of Stockton, California, has been in the news because they had to declare bankruptcy. Another city, I believe, declared they were cutting back on city employee pensions which had provided them with something like 80% of their salary after they retired, for the rest of their lives! How anyone ever thought that was a workable arrangement, I have no idea, but the thing is, those employees undoubtedly put their trust in their government pensions.

But shouldn’t our trust be in God? And hasn’t God given His people the mandate to share with those in need?

Every time I read God’s plan for the nation of Israel, I’m amazed. If they had followed what God set down, there would have been no poverty among them. It’s quite an involved plan that included a “jubilee,” or a time of giving back to the former owner the land you’d bought. In essence no one actually bought land. They bought a number of harvest seasons before the next jubilee.

Unfortunately unscrupulous rulers like Jezebel and King Ahab ignored God’s law and took what they wanted which brought the whole system down.

I bring this up because I believe God has structured and called the Church to look out for the needy and for one another so that there should be little poverty today.

Instead, we have the government inserting itself in our affairs, ordering us to look out for ourselves.

It strikes me that Peter instructed believers in his first letter to submit to “governors as sent by [the king] for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:14). Today, however, the government has decided it’s up to them, the leadership, to do right instead of praising individuals who do so.

The question that comes up next is, Who then will punish or praise the government?

That’s the best I can do for now. What are your thoughts about the Supreme Court decision?

8 Comments

  1. Still under 26 and living with my parents, I told my dad last night that I was scared about what will happen. I only bring up the fact that some doctors closed shop in 2009 because it shows the fearful reality of this law.

    You hit on some important realizations that needed to be put out in the open. All I can say is that I see my generation asking for more welfare, more reason to be slothful, but I know that the Lord has given every individual talents for a reason.

    Bastiat wrote, “We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life—physical, intellectual, and moral life. But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it.”

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  2. I work as an RN in intensive care for children in a county (government run) hospital. Caring for the poor and needy used to mean putting wash cloths on one’s head and holding their hand until they recovered or died. Health care today is far more expensive and complicated than that. The truth is that everyone wants advanced healthcare. Its expensive. Our system is fraught with middlemen to pay (case managers, social workers, insurance fees, liability insurance and fraud…) that are built into medical costs. These are just a small fraction of costs that complicate this issue. I agree essentially with the Christian mandate to help, but medical technology and care is way beyond what we can provide. We already have some nationalized healthcare in place now. Working with what we have, to identify problems and expand or reduce from there makes the most sense to me. Perhaps to denationalize healthcare, making each state come up with there own standards and solutions would bring about positive change. The states with the most success would be models for the states that aren’t doing so well. One federal system for all is too dangerous for our economy, subject to massive fraud and its failure would cause all to suffer. Break it down to the local and state level, it might be more manageable. Every government run funding seems to be abused in some way or another, raising inefficiency. I see and hear it first hand.

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  3. Nice observations, but may I submit some other thoughts?

    First, Jim and Tammy Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Oral Roberts, who said God would kill him if people didn’t pony up a big chunk of cash. And, pedophilia priests. The church is still people, with all our flaws. Churches are little, churches are huge, and churches have a variable ability to respond to the health needs of their congregants.

    Second, the government is all of us. I know, that is a rather optimistic evaluation of government, but we should all be participating in it, and holding it to account. And if it works as it should, government health care for all will keep all of its citizens as healthy as possible.

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  4. Cousin Rebecca – I appreciate your thoughts but it isn’t a case of government v. church. Health care expenses have been running out of control for decades now and it is a problem for society as a whole. Church members, generous as they may want to be to their fellow members or society as a whole, can’t be expected to continue to bear the brunt of these rising costs.. This burden has to be spread out over all citizens, church members and non-church members alike.

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  5. All I can say is that I see my generation asking for more welfare, more reason to be slothful.

    Interesting observations, Karl. I think that’s what our western culture is teaching all of us. We deserve a break today, or a trouble-free this, or a gorgeous that. All without having done anything to merit those things; we just deserve them!

    There are even people who profess Christ who want to obligate God to give them whatever they pray for–they deserve it because He promised, they say. Did He really?

    I’ve said before, I think the philosophy that is swallowing up other ways of thinking about life is hedonism. I tend to think what you’ve said here, fits into that mindset. Life is all about my personal comfort and ease.

    The quote you ended with is certainly consistent with the Bible. Before Mankind sinned, God gave us work and responsibility–part of what He called “good.”

    Becky

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  6. Lawrence, thanks for sharing your perspective from inside the industry.

    I don’t understand nearly as well as you, but I’ve seen enough to realize that the costs in hospital care are inflated by many things. You’ve mentioned some especially costly ones. When it comes to medicine, we can throw it “research costs,” and I suspect that might apply to other areas as well.

    The thing is, there is a small movement among some medical professionals who still see themselves as a service, to provide care for the poor. It might be comparable to lawyers’ pro bono work. A few others are making it their life work, treating only patients who do not have insurance.

    My hope was that such programs and the numbers of health care workers involved would increase.

    I’m in agreement with you about the fraud and inefficiency of government-run programs. What’s so ironic, these are the very things we criticized Communism for 50 years ago. Now we have become them in too many ways.

    Are local governments better? I suppose in some places. Here in California, there’s a lot of corruption at the local level too. I live near a couple cities that have been fraught with graft and political in-fighting. I can’t see entrusting them with health care funds. But I suspect there are lots of places where that would be a better option than the federal government.

    Becky

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  7. Mary, thanks for adding your perspective to the discussion.

    I guess I’m still wondering who will make sure the government does what it’s supposed to do. Enforcing was actually supposed to be the role of government.

    Look at the banking industry. With the government becoming partners with these big entities, we’re not seeing the changes that ought to take place if we are to avoid another crisis like we experienced four years ago. Instead, “banking” has become a lot like Wall Street–a sophisticated, get-rich gamboling enterprise.

    So with the government in bed with the insurance companies, who’s going to watch over the insurance companies to see that they’re doing what they should?

    Becky

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  8. Hi, Roger, thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate your comment. Certainly I recognize the rising health care costs. It seems like that would make citizen sharing (as opposed to corporate payment) prohibitive.

    There actually is a group set up to share costs. It’s much what “Mennonite Mutual Aid” started out to be, I think. The idea is, rather than paying a set premium, you pay whatever is needed. Some years that will be little and some years that will be much.

    I think it puts the whole idea on a different level. Voluntary giving or sharing what you have with those in need creates an altruistic environment, don’t you think? But the government mandating what a person must do seems to breed fraudulent schemes and loopholes.

    Meanwhile, what happens to teaching people to care for one another? It may not be the sole responsibility of the Church, but Christians ought to embrace it as not only that which is beneficial to society but that which is consistent with Biblical teachings.

    Becky

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