Well, the public option more or less died this week, but it has continued to sicken me (pun intended) that the loudest voice against substantial health care reform has been the evangelical church. In particular, Christians on the right have fought the public option as socialism (and we all know Jesus was a clear capitalist). I personally refuse to take this fight sitting down, as I firmly believe that health care reform is not a debate of public policy, politics, or economics, but of moral imperative.
Below are five common (and in my view, unforgivable) arguments leveled against universal health care, along with my responses.
1. Health care is not a fundamental human right, it is a commodity.
I suppose this kind of claim is subjective and always open to debate, but if health care is not a fundamental human right, what on earth is? Thomas Jefferson started with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Certainly health care is implied somewhere in there? How can my pursuit to be happy rank as more fundamental to my dignity as a human being than my pursuit to be healthy?
Health care reform is nothing if not an issue of life and death: people are dying. According to the American Journal of Public Health, 45,000 Americans die annually of diseases for which they need not die, simply because they cannot afford access to quality care. Where are the Right-to-Lifers on this critical threat to human life?
Why is health care treated as a commodity (or a luxury)? How is trauma care for a life-threatening injury or urgent treatment for a critical disease more like buying a new car or video game than like getting a fair trial or having the freedom to express oneself? Reason dictates that even the freedom of speech is a relative luxury compared to life-saving medical treatments. Why is the former a right in our country but the latter is treated as a commodity? That's simply irrational.
2. Your access to health care is not my responsibility.
This argument against health care reform, to me, is the most insidious. To speak plainly, I believe it to be evil. What do we call such blatant, self-serving callousness if not evil? It flies in the face of every moral lesson we try to teach our children, and for Christians, it certainly flies in the face of all of Jesus' teachings. Who can forget the Good Samaritan who made his enemy's trauma his own burden to bear?
For an even more explicit instruction from Jesus' teachings, let's take a scenic tour of Matthew 25: 31-46, shall we?
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Conservative Christians are quick to equate political action with moral action. Voting for someone who supports abortion rights or marriage equality for gays is the equivalent of condoning murder or sexual immorality for many. However, these same conservative Christians are willing to actively work against legislation that will heal the sick.
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Make no mistake, people will suffer disease and people will die from lack of treatment if universal health care is not passed. Some people will recover and survive only to bear the burden of years of debt and financial ruin. From a Christian point of view, every single person who raises his voice against reform has played a part in those deaths, that suffering, that debt. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me," Jesus said, and if you take that at all seriously, then you should take serious your responsibility to every American who cannot afford quality health care.
3. Your access to health care is not the government's responsibility.
This is one I hear a lot, and from Christians, it usually sounds like this: "Health care is not the job of the government. It's the job of the church." Whether or not it is the job of the church, the church is certainly not providing universal health care. Furthermore, had first-century Rome decided to provide all its conquered subjects with free quality health care, I cannot imagine a Jesus who would condemn such a thing. Jesus was not the kind of Son of God who would condemn a public good because it conflicted with the religious establishment's views of its role in society. Can you really imagine Jesus protesting universal access to quality health care for all Americans? Really? If your answer is yes, you believe in a Jesus I've never heard of.
Beyond the religious arguments, I've already written elsewhere on the self-evident common sense reasons why health care access is exactly the kind of thing our government is meant to provide. The Preamble of our Constitution claims as one of its principal purposes the promotion of the "general Welfare" of the people, and I can think of few things as essential to the general Welfare of every American than affordable health care access.
4.Universal health care is too expensive and doesn't even work in other countries.
This argument further states that everyone in those other countries wants to come here because they're jealous of our health care system, never mind that the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer government-provided health care.
Let's start by getting the first part out of the way: the U.S. spends far more on health care as a percentage of GDP than any other industrialized nation, as well as more per capita. Meanwhile, FOX News reports (FOX NEWS, PEOPLE!) that Americans are far less satisfied with their quality of health care than the citizens of other countries. According to FOX News, "people in the U.S. face longer wait times to see doctors and have more trouble getting care on evenings or weekends than do people in other industrialized countries."
This gels with my personal anecdotal experience, having numerous friends living abroad or having come from countries with universal health care. To the person, they have rated their care and access as better in other countries.
Likewise, 65% of Americans favor the public option, along with 73% of doctors.
5. I've gone without health care in the past, and I was just fine.
Lucky you. Glad you didn't have cancer, a child born with congenital defects, or a spouse with a crippling injury. Clearly, 45,000 people annually are not as lucky as you (or 22,000, if you prefer a more conservative estimate). Whether 45,000 people die annually from lack of insurance or 22,000, it is too many.
Think of it this way, if only 22,000 fetuses were aborted annually, would that change your Pro-Life stance? If your answer is no, then why aren't you standing up for the thousands who die annually from lack of insurance?