The Common Good

The Affordable Care Act at Six Months: What's Next for People of Faith?

Last week was a-buzz about the six-month anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. And rightfully so. On the actual anniversary date (September 23), a host of new benefits went into effect that will make U.S. health care work better for millions of Americans.

In new plans, the system will now be:

  • More inclusive for children with pre-existing conditions and many uninsured young adults.
  • More affordable for senior adults burdened by prescription drug costs, and for enrollees who will receive preventive care with no cost-sharing.
  • More accessible for persons who have been uninsured because of pre-existing conditions.
  • More accountable to all of us because the most egregious of insurance industry practices will be banned.

All of this marks the beginning of a process that will eventually provide most of us access to our nation's abundant health care resources. It's a significant first step in moving toward our faith-inspired vision of a health care future that affords health, wholeness, and human dignity for all.

The on-going debate fails to recognize that the transformation of our health care system will require the same kind of vision and investment that led to modernizing other systems in our country's infrastructure. In creating a power grid, phone systems, water systems, and interstate highways, our life together improved and the common good was served. Society as a whole, and the individuals within it, flourished.

The Affordable Care Act gives us the opportunity to tackle a dated and broken health system that still operates with the equivalent of individual generators, scattered wells, and meandering roads. With a new vision and a shared commitment to fulfill it, we can create a health care infrastructure that sustains our collective well-being.

Of course, we acknowledge that social change of such magnitude does not happen just because a law was passed. We know we'll need to persevere as we did in the decades-long efforts to end child labor, give women the right to vote, and enact guarantees of civil rights for African Americans. And we understand that such transformation ultimately begins in the hearts and minds of all those who call this country home.

As a start, we must remind people that health care reform is an answer to a condition of chronic social injustice, not a problem. What's more, we must articulate how reform safeguards families rather than endangering them because 1 in 10 people who may have been one illness away from financial ruin will have access to medical insurance. We need to remind Americans that this law calls all of us to be more faithful stewards of our collective resources, thus stabilizing our economy, not threatening our recovery.

But just as important in the days -- and years -- ahead, will be our willingness to put aside our fear of discussing this political football in our communities of faith and seek to discern the heart in health care reform. We'll need to be intentional about moving beyond debate about what is politically prudent or economically feasible toward reflection and dialogue grounded in the sacred texts that call us to health and healing. This is our moment to embrace our common humanity, not our political identities -- person by person, and congregation by congregation -- until we re-discover the very deepest expressions of what it means to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers.

Rev. Linda Hanna Walling is the executive director of Faithful Reform in Health Care, the largest national interfaith coalition working in support of a more compassionate health care future that affords health, wholeness, and human dignity for all. She is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

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