The Common Good
November 2009

Faith Principles for Health-Care Reform

by Jim Wallis | November 2009

In recent days, people of faith have raised their voices in the health-care reform debate and started talking about moral values.

In recent days, people of faith have raised their voices in the health-care reform debate and started talking about moral values. Many have wondered if this is appropriate or even helpful in such a technical policy discussion. But from the Bill of Rights to the abolition of slavery, from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, those who have raised the question of “values” have often changed our country for the better. In uncertain times, change can be scary, but it only comes when a nation chooses hope over fear.

Unfortunately, God sent Moses down the mountain with only the Ten Commandments, and not a health-care bill ready to be passed out of committee. There is no single “right” religious position on how health care should be provided. But I believe there are some fundamental moral and biblical principles on which to evaluate any final legislative agreement, principles on which many people of faith—even politically diverse people—might agree.

  1. Access to good health care is a right, not a privilege. Jesus healed those who came to him without regard to who they were or to profit. He treated each one with the dignity that comes from being created in the image and likeness of God.
    When we are instruments of bringing about good health, we do the work of God. The gospel stories of Jesus healing people, of restoring people to physical wholeness and full participation in their community, always signaled God’s presence. As a society, we must make the shift from seeing health care as a privilege to understanding health care as a basic right for all of God’s children.
  2. United we stand, divided we fall. The division between those who can afford adequate coverage and those who cannot is a threat to our unity and a threat to the health of our neighbors and our nation.
    Forty-six million people in our country are uninsured. Millions more who have insurance still can’t keep up with their bills. Our moral and religious standards say that no one should be left out of a system simply because they cannot afford to pay.
  3. Patients, not profits. No one should be discriminated against in their health care because they are sick. Our current health-care system does exactly that. Health insurance companies often deny coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” for necessary medications, or for not following the fine print. Each denial adds to their profit margin.
    Every doctor I know decided to pursue medicine to help people, but many insurance companies make a profit by not helping people. From the perspective of our faith, being sick should be the reason for accessing health-care coverage, not a reason for denying it.
  4. Life and liberty must both be protected. The health-care system should protect the sanctity and dignity of life in accordance with existing law and current rules, and the prohibition on federal funding of abortions should be consistently and diligently applied to any legislation. Strong “conscience” protections should be enacted for health-care workers to ensure they have the liberty to exercise their moral and religious beliefs in their profession.
    Evidence suggests that support-ing low-income and pregnant women with adequate health care may increase the number of women who choose to carry their child to term—if we reform health care in the right way, we can reduce abortions. While religious people don’t all agree on all the policy issues of abortion, we should agree that it must not be allowed to derail the crucial need for comprehensive health-care reform.
  5. For the next generation, health-care reform should be based on firm financial foundations. Health care is a vital and wise investment for the future of our families and society. But the way we pay for it should be fair and equitable and seek to lessen the burden on succeeding generations—both in bringing everyone into the system and by bringing the costs of health care under control over time.
    Our religious traditions suggest that social justice and fiscal responsibility must not be pitted against each other, but balanced together in sound public policy.

So let us have the moral dialogue and debate—let’s take the best of who we are, the greatest parts of our tradition, and use that to lead the way. The misinformation, falsehoods, and outright lies that many are now circulating obscure the moral and religious core of this debate: that millions of people are suffering in an inequitable and inefficient health-care system, and that too many powerful people are profiting from that broken system in defiance of the common good.

Perhaps the faith community could model a more civil debate and find the sensible moral center that will help the country find the best solutions to the health of the nation.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

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