The health-care debate continues in Washington and will continue for an undetermined amount of time. Such a debate on sweeping reforms have not taken place in years, so the continuing debate in Washington on health-care is a good thing and needs to continue. The efforts of our Congressional representatives are laudable but will fall short of true reform.

The legislation that comes out of Washington will not change the most fundamental problems of the health-care system, leaving it up to states, communities and companies to figure out what to do about it on a community level where health-care, and too often just sick-care, is delivered.

Both the House and Senate bills offer myriad improvements to our nation’s current health system in terms of access to coverage, cost controls, health care quality and insurance regulations. However, the so-called “public option” is becoming more of an option for debate rather than a reality.

Whatever form national health insurance reform takes, it will not be enough. Therefore, it is important for all parts of our society, including the church and other faith groups, to begin or continue community efforts for improved health.

Hopefully, the bill that finally comes out of Washington will extend health insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans, raising, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal (Jan. 2), to 94 percent the portion of people with health-care insurance coverage.

If this part of the legislation survives, the extended coverage to up to 94-percent of the population will be a major accomplishment toward The United Methodist Church’s goal that “it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care” (Social Principles of The United Methodist Church paragraph 162.3V – Right to Health Care).

Health care begins at home

But solving the problem of high insurance costs and less-than-quality health care cannot be solved merely by passing even an omnibus bill. Health care begins at home and usually ends in the community or within a reasonable distance of home. It does not begin and end in Washington.

Recently, retired pastor Dick Hamilton and I worked with a coalition of health-care, business and faith groups named Better Healthcare for Indiana in hosting a day-long seminary at Christian Theological Seminary to discuss health-care issues from a community perspective. During the discussion, BHI board member David Cook, M.D., said, “We don’t need to wait for something to happen in Washington, because there are communities doing this (reform) already.”

At the BHI event, more than 80 community, university, faith and business leaders from across Indiana listened and shared examples of local initiatives for health-care reform. The key to such reform comes from collaboration among all those involved in good health, including the faith community.

They heard that in Bloomington 30 agencies promote walking to fight obesity; schools are collecting body-mass index data in order to lower body-mass; and the city started free local clinics for poor and underinsured residents.

In Logansport, the city built a running-walking trail and studied the health improvements of its users; schools led a campaign in food choices and curriculum to promote better eating; and the community started a fitness club which rewards schools that improve their students’ fitness.

According to Cook’s analysis, that health-care cost in these two communities are 13 percent below the state average. The goal is not better-health care insurance, but better health for the citizens of the community.

Stewardship of health

Community leaders, including United Methodists, from Crawfordsville to Terre Haute, also are collaborating together to improve the quality of health in their communities. These efforts go hand-in-hand with United Methodist Social Principles that state: “Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility – public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.”

Now is the time for more United Methodists to take the lead with others in their communities including health-care providers, parish nurses, United Methodist-related hospitals, community leaders and business leaders to improve the health of all citizens through collaborative efforts like those communities working with BHI.

If we wait for Washington to solve our health-care problems, we may be waiting a long time.

– Daniel R. Gangler

Whatever form national health insurance reform takes, it will not be enough.