Health Care and Biblical Malpractice

Health Care and Biblical Malpractice

The health care debate has twisted the Bible to the point of malpractice. “Jesus healed, therefore we should mandate single-payer health care” is well-intentioned but faulty logic, to put it mildly. When spoken by someone who believes that Jesus’ miracles are just inventions of the early church, the claim becomes downright dishonest.

Health CarePhoto: U.S. Army Africa. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

And yet, what is frustrating is that the need for affordable, obtainable health care in America is far worse than what we had ten years ago. What good is a policy on which you’re paying $2,000 per month, with a $10,000 deductible? Both sides agree that what we have now is broken, but few lawmakers on either side of the aisle are doing much to bring down those costs.

Health care is a subject on which I am hesitant to speak, because I can claim no expertise on the subject, and because God has very little authoritative word on the subject. Patheos blogger Michael Bird represents one point of view on this debate (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2012/06/evangelicals-and-health-care-long-blog-post/). Here’s mine.

God has endorsed neither single-payer health care, nor free-market health care. Yes, Jesus was famous for his healing ministry. But Jesus was a faith-healer: he did not use pharmaceuticals or medical treatments, nor did he refer patients to Caesar or to the rabbis’ poor-fund. Jesus also ministered at a time when even the best doctors were quacks by modern standards. The rabbis said, “The best among physicians is destined for Gehenna” (Mishnah, Kiddushin 4:14). Given that Paul did not consider even food to be a human right (2 Thessalonians 3:10), it is better to speak of health care as an imperative of compassion rather than a human right.

I propose at least two Biblical principles by which any health care system can be measured (there could be more). One principle is that we need to care for every human who is created in the image of God (I would say, from conception to end of life). The other principle may be found in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurably sick.” Which means, any time we try to pass a law or start a government program, someone will try to abuse it. To provide the best care for human need, we’ve got to figure out the system that is least vulnerable to human corruption.

One major issue: Whom do we trust to make life-or-death decisions for us? Do you want some bad, evil insurance company or HMO deciding whether you can have a new kidney? Or do you want the government making that decision? What recourse do you have when the government denies you kidney cancer treatments?

I don’t mind paying higher taxes to insure that everyone has health care, if that’s what’s needed, and if the money will do the job. But the problems of non-portability, pre-existing conditions, and people who can’t afford care, can be reportedly solved at a fraction of the cost of what we have now.

It has been pointed out that requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions is like buying fire insurance during a fire. What that means is that insurance and medical coverage are two different issues that should not be thrown together. To lump them together destroys the whole concept of insurance. To cover such persons requires direct aid rather than insurance (unless we wish to pay the cost of higher premiums that would be required to insure such persons). As it is, we all pay when the uninsured go to emergency rooms. We need to find more sensible ways to pay for health care for those who can afford none.

Do we have a right to plenty of qualified doctors? If you’ve had to wait a long time to see a doctor lately, we need to ask why doctors have been quitting in such large numbers. Take a look at the waiting periods in countries that have government health care. Imagine how many people die before the government can get around to treating them. (That will be a six-month wait on that colonoscopy…) Universal “coverage” is meaningless if you can’t get treatment.

A doctor friend told me that doctors, insurance companies, trial lawyers, and government all bear part of the blame. The role of any third-party payer such as insurance automatically inflates the price of health care. Compare the explosive rise of medical costs, to the much slower rise in the cost of dental, ocular, plastic surgery, and veterinary care, where insurance plays much less of a role if any at all. See how the price of private health care drops in countries where insurance and malpractice lawsuits are in short supply.

Decades ago when I first got health insurance, I thought that insurance was intended for big-ticket costs, not for fertility treatments or contraceptives. I assumed that those were items that should be paid for out of one’s own pocket, to avoid wasting everyone else’s insurance dollars. By contrast, today’s sense of entitlement leads us to demand that somebody else’s healthcare dollars should pay for motorized scooters for those who are incapacitated. We demand transplants that were not humanly possible 50 years ago, as if they were a human right.

I believe it is unreasonable for me to demand a stress-dye test every time I have chest pain. (I passed such a test twelve years ago; to get retested every month would be unreasonable.) The way I look at it, we’re going to die sooner or later anyway; does it matter that much whether I can push that date back ten or twenty years? And if not, then it’s time to stop demonizing insurance companies and government for placing limits on their health plans. There are only so many organs and so many dollars available.

There are no easy answers on such issues. I can find no moral high ground. Contrary to the rhetoric, universal “coverage” does not mean universal care. I reject efforts to forcibly impose healthcare solutions on all of us that promise what they cannot deliver.

Both sides acknowledge that what we have now is broken. But in the debate about how to replace it, we hear little about the overwhelming number of people who lost their coverage when the current plan was implemented, and we hear misleading claims about how many would lose their coverage if we replaced it. Some insist the answer is that we need to go all the way to a single-payer system. After all, we remember what Jesus said: “If someone asks for your coat, give them someone else’s.” (Grin.)

We all want to see an end to cases of people who can’t get needed care because they can’t afford it. Our present debate is about how we can provide more and better care than we have now, with more freedom to choose, at a price that is not ridiculous.

Caring for all who are created in the image of God (from the womb, all the way to life support) is indeed an imperative of compassion. Our current situation compels us to find better solutions for those needs – before the current solution kills us. Let’s get past the political demagoguery and find sensible common ground on how health care can be provided for all.

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