Where do we agree?

Congress is currently locked in a heated debate about health care coverage in America. Most of its controversy circles around the pros and cons of universal health care coverage run by the federal government. Unfortunately, the larger issue of a comprehensive re-imagining of our American health-care system to provide better and more inexpensive health care than we currently experience has been sidelined.

When it comes to such social issues and the church, most of the time I agree with the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church and back the principles. However when it comes to the current health care debate in Washington, I believe The United Methodist Church’s official backing of a single-payer health-care insurance paid for by the federal government from taxation crosses the line in providing guidance to both church and society for solutions to the health-care crisis. Instead the church has taken a definitive partisan stance on the issue of comprehensive health-care reform through this proposed government funded plan.

I agree with the church on the need of society to provide health care for all individuals living within the United States. I agree expressing such a position is a moral obligation. Theologically, I also agree that health care is a basic human right for all. (See UMC Social Principles, ¶162V Right to Health Care). This has been a consistent stance of the church for nearly two decades. Jesus healed all who came to him, if they wished to be healed.

I disagree

I disagree with the narrow approach written into the Right to Health Care in the Social Principles during the 2008 General Conference, the church’s top legislative body, which adds the language: “Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities.” I disagree with the new last sentence of this social principle which states: “We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.” I believe health care is society’s responsibility – governments, businesses, religious groups, schools (both public and private), families and individuals – to provide all American citizens with quality health care.

But the 2008 General Conference didn’t stop there. It also adopted a 33-hundred-word resolution (Resolution 3201 Health Care for All in the United States) ending with the directed action: “We call for swift passage of legislation which will entitle all persons within the borders of the United States to the provision of health care services, the cost of such services to be equally shared by American taxpayers, and the government to distribute the funds to providers in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. This concept, known as ‘single-payer,’ would extend health care to all persons in the United States.” This means government financed and run health care.

Where is the church’s (not government’s) historic role as a major health provider in America today? Will the government take over the control of church-related health care institutions?

This resolution also states: “We recognize that much of the cost savings of ‘single payer’ flow from the virtually total elimination of the health insurance industry.”

I believe this official church position is wrong in advocating for such an overthrow of the current private health insurance industry. Reform, yes, but elimination? Let’s be realistic.

The official stance of The United Methodist Church on health-care reform has crossed the line from guidance to a partisan role which will alienate established partners of health care in unnecessary ways.

Yes, health care in America needs a major overhaul. Yes, health care in America needs to be available to all people, but not in this partisan manner of bully politics.

I also believe that many Hoosier United Methodists also disagree with the push the General Board of Church and Society is giving to the universal, single-payer government-run option as directed by the 2008 General Conference in this resolution as the means of health care reform in the United States on the church’s behalf, especially when the board knows this is a divisive issue within both our church and society.

Where can we agree?

I believe we can agree and work together in contacting our elected congressional representatives, letting them know that many, if not most, United Methodists believe that all citizens need to receive health care. Unfortunately, the importance of the Social Principles statement on the right of health care for all has become politicized into a single-payer government-run solution.

No matter what solution wins out, whether the official stance of the General Conference in its resolution or another solution with blended financing and reform of the health-care insurance industry, we United Methodists need to communicate to our U.S. Senate and House delegations that we believe all Americans have a right to health care no matter how it is financed.

One way or another, Congress will make its decisions on health-care coverage reform, the president will sign this legislation and many will think the discussion is over. However, true health care reform (not just health-care coverage reform) won’t come from Washington alone, but from every state and community across the country. Hoosiers and other Americans need both individual and collective initiatives before real and adequate reform of our current system of health care will be experienced.

Health care doesn’t begin in the doctor’s office or in halls of Congress. Health care begins at home with nutritious diets, adequate rest, proper hygiene, daily exercise, preventive care and spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

– Daniel R. Gangler

Note: To find your U.S. Congressional representatives’ contact information, go to www.senate.gov (listed by state) and www.house.gov (listed by 9 number ZIP code).