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A sign giving direction to The University of Miami Hospital’s Emergency Department.
The Supreme Court has upheld important facets of the Affordable Care Act., reasonably concluding that Congress can impose a “tax” as an interpretation of what is called the “individual mandate,” the provision that requires Americans to purchase health insurance or face a penalty.
This is the centerpiece of the legislation known as “Obamacare,” and the way in which the economics of coverage will be managed. Without it, 50 million Americans would have continued to be without access to affordable health care, and insurance companies could have raised premiums, making it even harder for those who are covered to continue to afford their health plans.
The poorest of the poor are still at risk, however, since while the court also upheld the government’s ability to expand Medicaid coverage for the most needy, it said the government could not withdraw existing Medicaid funding from states that opt out of the expansion. This part of the ruling hampers the government in enforcing Medicaid expansion where states are resistant.
Christians have their work cut out for them here, as they and other people of faith and humanist values will need to vigorously make the case to their fellow citizens at the state level that compassion for the poor is a top priority.
Fortunately, the case for compassion for the poor, and paying for their health care is an easy case to make for Christians.
Anyone who has read the New Testament knows that Jesus of Nazareth was first and foremost a healer. The sick flocked to him (Matthew 8:16, 19:2, Mark 5:34, Luke 5:17, 9:11) and he healed them. Jesus taught his followers that in caring for the sick, they were actually caring for him, and in failing to care for the sick, they were failing him. (Matthew 25:31-46) This is a cornerstone of Christian faith.
Over and over the scriptures talk about how Jesus “felt compassion” for those who were suffering from illness. “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14)
Jesus taught his followers to have compassion for the sick, to be helpful including paying for health care for those who could not afford it.
The “Good Samaritan,” in a well-known story told by Jesus (Luke 10:25-37), is the person who stops and cares for an injured man left by the side of the road. In this teaching, Jesus tells how the privileged of his society had callously walked by the injured man, ignoring the man’s urgent need for care. It is the “Samaritan,” someone who would have been a despised outsider in Jesus’s time, who actually stops and cares for the man, paying for his care.
It is not enough for me as a Christian, and a person of faith, to do this as an individual. It is my responsibility to call my society to be decent to the sick, and pay for their health care. It is a matter of moral accountability to my fellow citizens.
It is not enough for me as a Christian, and a person of faith, to do this as an individual. It is my responsibility to call my society to be decent to the sick, and pay for their health care. It is a matter of moral accountability to my fellow citizens.My theology teacher, Fredrick Herzog, taught me and many others that it was not adequate for Christians to just do “God-talk,” that is, quote our Bible in our theology. Instead, the Christian imperative is to do “God-walk,” that is, live the words of scripture in our lives.
In Herzog’s view, this applied to how we acted as a society, not just as individuals. He would often say that “in this society, it is impossible to be a decent Christian” when we do not have social policies based on peace and justice.
This teaching applies most directly to the poorest among us, and that is where the Supreme Court’s decision on Medicaid means Christians need to make covering the poorest a priority.
Since the Medicaid expansion will be a matter for states to decide, it is critical that Christians speak directly to their belief that as people of faith we must care for the sick as though each sick person were Jesus of Nazareth himself. We can work together we those of other faith traditions, as caring for the poor is a central value in the major religions of the world.
The Supreme Court has decided the question of health care legislation with legal insight; it is up to people of faith to dig deeply into their traditions and call on their states to expand Medicaid coverage.
We must bring the deepest compassion to our social policy when it comes to the most vulnerable among us.
The former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.