As Americans overwhelmingly turn against the proposed overhaul of the Health Care system, Obama is counting on support from religious leaders, to whom he hopes to sell the message that Universal Healthcare is a moral imperative, since 47 million people in our communities are suffering without insurance. I am reminded of the organization “Matthew 25” who ran ads promoting Obama’s campaign on the grounds that he wanted to clothe the naked and feed the hungry, and saying that Christians should support such a candidate. But I have to vehemently object to that notion.
Clearing up the mess…
Before we even get into the ethical questions we should clarify the situation and remove the vague and misleading terminology that has been abused in the debate. For example, when politicians invoke the plight of 47 million individuals who “cannot get care because they lack health insurance” they are making a sly and intentional misstatement. It should be understood that “Health Care” and “Health Insurance” are two completely different things. The former is the act of treatment, while the latter is a means to that end – at least the means taken by most individuals. But not all. You see, there are also many people who receive the treatment but do not use insurance, thus they do not need it.
On one hand you have people in the lower income brackets who receive treatment at no cost to the individual or to insurance companies. We aren’t barbarians, and very few of us would turn away a suffering person, so when someone walks in to a county hospital, such as Ben Taub in Houston, they can simply say they don’t have the money to pay, and they will be treated, albeit not in the most luxurious of ways. But on the other hand there are plenty of upper class citizens who prefer to pay out-of-pocket for occasional treatment instead of through an insurance company. They see no reason to pay constant fees for the financial protection in case of an unfortunate but unlikely event, and instead they take care of themselves as nature demands. Most people can’t imagine the financial devastation they would undergo, on top of emotional stress, should a family member experience a traumatic event that puts them in a hospital for weeks. But for a family making several hundred thousand dollars a year that’s just a setback – especially when you’ve navigated through several years without paying insurance fees.
This observation means that the 47 million uninsured might have a slightly different make-up than what we would be led to believe. Looking at the numbers, we find that half of the uninsured are between 19 and 34 years of age. People in their twenties don’t want a large chunk of their income going to insurance premiums, considering the unlikelihood of any serious conditions. 11 million of the uninsured are illegal aliens. Some pay into the system and others do not, but that is beside the point. When we start handing out free health care, in addition to K-12 education, to illegal aliens there will be no stopping the constant influx, which causes wages to drop, taxes to increase and threatens our security. Nearly half of the uninsured population have incomes of over twice the poverty level. That means that out of the 47 million people suffering from lack of insurance, half of them earn $21,660 per year or more for a single-person household, or $74,020 for a family of 8. I know these figures aren’t exactly easy to live on, but no one said life was easy, and if your health is more important than cigarettes or movie rentals, I’m sure you can find a way to pay for basic insurance on a moderate to low income. But if there’s an easy option to have the government pay for it, why not?
To summarize the reality of the situation, we have millions of people who, because of good health or good wealth, have chosen not to participate in the medical insurance industry, and millions more who cannot participate because they entered the country under the radar and failed to follow the necessary steps toward citizenship. So out of the supposed 47 million suffering individuals we actually have a fraction of that – about 16 million by some estimates – who actually need insurance but can’t afford it. But under the current system they still receive treatment at no charge. So the problem really isn’t that we have millions who need help and can’t get it, the real problem is hidden behind the smoke – and that is the fact that the cost of treating those who cannot pay is crippling the system and driving premiums up for those who do pay.
Back to the moral argument of Universal Healthcare
Now that we’ve cleared up the foggy details, let’s get to the ethics of the matter. If medical treatment is a human right, then any responsible government should make sure it is available, but that claim is hard to back up. Human rights, as the Declaration of Independence recognized, are given to us by our creator and can be forfeited but should never be removed. He gives us life, and no one should take it unless we give it. He gives us our sustenance and rewards our work, thus our property is a sacred gift, not to be taken. He gives us freedom over our lives, to choose the paths we take in life and accept the consequences – good or bad – thus, our freedom to think, move, work, speak and worship are all held to the highest respect.
But medical treatment is something that is not given by God, but by men. It is like any other service commodity. I could do my own laundry or have it done for a fee. I can build myself a home or purchase one. I can grow my own fruits and vegetables or I can pay a farmer to grow it, a trucking company to transport it and a grocer to bring it all to one convenient location. And why would I do these things? Because my skill set is not that of a home builder or a farmer, and I can make money doing something I am good at, and pay others to do what I can’t. Many people learn the science of the human body and are paid to give special attention to individuals who need it. We call them Doctors, and since few people are willing or able to do what is necessary to gain such an expertise they are in high demand. Fortunately, in a society as scientifically and technologically advanced as ours we have very skilled Doctors with vast knowledge and amazing equipment – something we should be thankful for, but something that comes with a price.
In our society we do believe in helping our neighbor, and until Medicare and Medicaid were passed in 1965, under a similar political landscape as what we find today, taking care of those in need was done directly from one hand to another through organizations like the American Red Cross (founded in 1881), Goodwill Industries International (founded in 1902) and the Salvation Army (founded in Great Britain in 1865), as well as thousands of local churches and organizations spread across every community in America. When people are suffering families and friends step in to help. Where that is not available the community steps in.
This is the most organic manifestation of the giving spirit, and that to which we are called by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Helping thy neighbor through government programs removes the giver from the receiver, and even negates the central purpose of the altruistic call – that in our decision making process we consider the needs of another and choose the path of service. Government programs tax the wealthy and middle class, like an automatic draft, and funnel the money from one purse to the next until some eligible candidate fills out the necessary paper work and gets a few bucks – assuming that the individual actually needs the money and plans to use it on necessary products. This is a cold and distant form of charity if it can be called by that term at all.
Can it, in fact, be considered charity? After all, doesn’t the whole notion of a gift require that the giver acts on his own accord, willingly handing over the property that is otherwise rightfully his? Would the gift of love be of any value if it were not a matter of choice? Of course not! So how can an argument be made that it is somehow our moral duty to serve the needy through the pockets of others? Is it a moral act to break into my neighbors home and steal their jewelry in order to sell it and give the profits to a homeless man? It would be no less moral than writing laws to seize the property and earnings of some individuals to meet the needs of others. When I put money into an offering plate or send a check to a charity I am doing so at my own choosing, but when the IRS demands a percentage of my income it is at the choosing of others.
How can we pretend that mass theft can be seen as a virtue? To what extent will we go to rid mankind of suffering, when we know that such a world can never exist? The moral argument was made in the 1930’s as FDR implemented the Social Security program that has seen its share of fraud and abuse, and is now a looming nightmare that threatens to destabilize our already slumping economy. It was made again in 1965’s as Medicare and Medicaid began as part of LBJ’s utopian “Great Society” program, which has also proven to be a flawed objective. These costly attempts to eliminate poverty, sickness and suffering have done little to that end. If anything they’ve caused excessive regulations and made many Americans more dependent on government hand outs. The U.S. Census statistics show that since 1965 the percentage of American citizens under the poverty line has only decreased 5 points, from 17.3% to 12.3%. This would seem like a worthy improvement until that number is put in contrast to the fact that federal spending on social welfare programs has risen nearly 900% in that same time, adjusted for inflation. I believe even the small drop in poverty is partly due to the aforementioned millions of undocumented immigrants who are not counted.
Separation of Church and State was an important concept for many reasons, but one was that to mix government and religion was to mix tithing and taxes, and our founders agreed that the sanctity of the holy church need not be blemished by the complications and corruption involved in the handling of the public coffers. Christian evangelicals, as well as people from all faiths, should reject the message that Universal Healthcare and public insurance plans are a moral imperative, and should instead encourage individuals, churches and private organizations to take back their role as the primary caregivers of the needy and the pioneers of charitable causes. Serving those in need should always be a grassroots movement. The last thing hurting people need is astroturf.