Christians and Health Care Reform

In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge famously said that "The business of the American people is business." And today, nearly a century later with our country in a gridlock over health care reform, perhaps never has Coolidge's observation proven more true.

 

No one disputes that technologically speaking, America's health care system is among the world's best. Yet when nearly 20% of its population (and that percentage continues to grow as health-insurance providing jobs continue to shrink) are reduced to begging for basic health services, we can only conclude that when it comes to health care in America something has gone drastically wrong. Even the health insurance providers seem to be starting to realize this and have started to lobby for some kind change providing, of course, that it doesn't threaten the turf of the health insurance providers themselves.

 

However, isn't all this lobbying a major symptom of what has gone wrong in the first place? Something like the viruses and bacteria that have contaminated so many of our nation's hospitals, largely due to the overuse of antibiotics, so too our whole health system has become contaminated by the use of the business model of doing things.

 

Instead, on a more fundamental basis, we have to rethink or remodel heath care in terms of being a service that needs to be provided or offered to all persons, regardless of their ability to pay. Becoming a health care professional needs to be seen as a vocation or calling -- much the same as a call to ministry or public service of some sort. Just as a clergyman or politician who "is in it for the money" deserves our censure or scorn, so too the physician or other health care professional whose primary concern is to become wealthy should be avoided like the plague.

 

Which brings us back to the health insurance "industry." Recently, a former health insurance executive -- who quit the business after his conscience finally got to him -- was interviewed on public TV. He laid the problem not to the idea of insurance itself (which after all began not as a business but as a service, usually provided by a group of people for the less fortunate among themselves) but on them having become public corporations largely controlled by investors on Wall Street. In other words, the problem is that insurance has largely become a business with a profit-oriented goal instead of a service with the welfare of people first in mind.

 

It appears that at this point, we are probably going to end up with some kind of national plan not unlike that put into effect in Massachusetts some years ago where by law, one way or another, everyone is supposed to end up with health insurance of some sort. This has been certainly a great boon to the insurance industry, but, largely due to the intervention of that same industry, it has lacked any effective measures at cutting cost. Experience with health insurance in other countries has consistently shown that however the services are provided and paid for (and there is a great variety of models to choose from) still, without the government setting limits to cost, the price of health care soon spirals out of control.

 

No doubt, any government attempt at such price-control here will be rejected as "socialism. But as the well-known British religious thinker C.S. Lewis once wrote, any truly Christian society would probably end up looking like socialism in some form. Indeed one would think this would be most obvious to American Catholics when that latter term itself means being inclusive of all. But despite this lapse in their religious consciousness, an even better known Brit, Winston Churchill, once observed that "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing -- after they have tried everything else." So if legislation comes out of all this debate, it will probably be ridden with major flaws, but at least it will be a first step towards finally, after all these years, getting things right.

 

R. W. Kropf 8/1/09 HealthCare Reform.doc 09-08-01.html