The Common Good

Health Care Is a Moral and Religious Issue

The theatrics around the Affordable Care Act seem only to be matched by the public’s ignorance about what it actually is. Case in point: when late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel sent a reporter out on the street to ask people their opinions, they felt markedly better about the nuts and bolts of the Affordable Care Act than they did about Obamacare.

Never mind they’re the same thing (sigh).

It seems that a handful of lawmakers have seen to it that our ignorance is sown into full-blown fear, obfuscating the fact that the shutdown – which was largely a fight over the ACA – cost our economy about $25 billion. For those who have been following even on a cursory level, the arguments against the ACA are becoming quite familiar:

· The individual mandate infringes on my freedom not to have insurance.

  • The whole thing costs too much.
  • It’s a slippery slope to a single-payer system.

On this last point, we can only hope the critics are right, particularly since a single-payer health care system is the only model that has offered hard evidence of both covering everyone and reducing total costs. But since we’re not there yet, let’s consider what we do have with this new law.

Yes, the rollout has been a complete mess. How proponents of such a contentious program can be so unprepared for folks to actually use it is mind-boggling. But while we’re preoccupied with the Capitol Hill fights and the technological fumbles, there are many parts of the new law that simply have changed existing policy, helping millions secure or maintain coverage.

First, for all of those young people struggling to find a job in a recovering economy, the opportunity to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 is a welcome relief. As student loan rules tighten, requiring college grads to start repaying their debts almost immediately, it can be the difference between having good medical care or none at all. And as one of those students back in the day who didn’t have this option, I’m glad to know our young adults have the option to go to the doctor when they need to.

For pregnant couples, or for those wanting to have children, the increased options to pick your OB/GYN offers flexibility, especially for those in rural areas. And the elimination of lifelong limits, simplifying benefit information and eliminating insurance companies’ ability to drop you for simple paperwork errors offers some necessary comfort during a tumultuous time.

The preexisting condition clause is a major boon for those with chronic illness too. Previously, you could be denied coverage for anything from depression or a bout with cancer to a chronic sinus condition. And of course, those with such chronic issues still need medical assistance; they simply end up relying on emergency care instead, which costs all of us a whole lot more in the long term.

Finally, the revamped appeals process tilts advocacy in favor of the patient, rather than the other way around. Whereas a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, those appealing insurance claim denials were presumed to be gaming the system or to be hypochondriacs rather than regular people with legitimate complaints.

Personally, I don’t benefit at all from the ACA. I’m too old to be on my parents’ insurance by a long stretch, and I make too much money to use the web-based system. I’m not on Medicare, I don’t have a prohibitive chronic condition, and, though I don’t like it, we can afford our own insurance.

So why do I stand behind the ACA, despite the system's obvious foibles and faults?

First, as a Christian, I think it’s a matter of justice. To suggest that my personal right to have more choices supersedes the right of every person to have access to even basic health care is an un-Christ-like attitude. And although there certainly are other means of achieving this (single payer being one), no one else has dared to push a serious agenda of reform until now. So until you present me with a legitimate alternative that yields the results my faith demands, I’ll stick with ACA.

Second, it’s a matter of commonsense economics to me. Though the pundits argue that the ACA can result in anything from a $1.5 trillion added financial burden in the next decade to roughly $170 in savings, the present system is a complete mess. Untold millions (if not billions) are spent on billing and collections from folks who have no other option but to go to emergency rooms for all of their basic care. Those of us who have insurance get negotiated rates, while those who can least afford it are charged full price.

And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. So much time, money, and resources could be preserved if everyone had direct access not just to preventive care and basic medicine, but also to more proactive tools for maintaining a healthy overall lifestyle. Granted, it’s a tough sell in today’s government to spend money on diet and exercise resources for the poor, but both the long-term savings and simple human decency beg for such a response.

Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

Image: Health care illustration, sheff / Shutterstock.com

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