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?

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