By March 18, 2010, the American health care debate had reached its fever pitch as our Congress stood poised to pass or reject one of the most consequential pieces of legislation to trudge through its halls since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights act of 1965.
On that day, I published a post titled “Health Care and Judgement Day,” focusing on the Tea Party's mantra of the time, "Small Government!" and traced the mantra back to its roots in the Antebellum South's cry for "State's rights!"
Two years later, as pundits projected how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on the Affordable Care Act, they confirmed the heart of the opposition's arguments; "State's rights," but they miscalculated the level of ideological loyalty within the nation's highest court.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government does hold the constitutional power to mandate that most American's purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. This power is maintained in Congress’s ability to levy taxes.
The justices also ruled that the federal government does hold the constitutional power to expand Medicaid, making more people eligible to receive the benefit, but, like the original Medicaid law of 1965, states can opt out of the expansion if they so choose.
What does this mean?
- In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt advocated for a national health insurance program.
- In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to include a national health insurance program in Social Security, but was thwarted.
- In 1945, President Harry S. Truman proposed the nation's first "single payer" program, but it was eviscerated by the American Medical Association, which feared the program would cut into physicians’ profits.
- In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson amended FDR's Social Security Act to include Medicare and 19 million senior citizens gained access to health care that year.
- In 1974, President Richard Nixon proposed the Comprehensive Health Insurance Act. This program would have expanded Medicare and Medicaid to cover all Americans, but political jocking on the left stalled that legislation.
- In 1993, President Bill Clinton put forward a bill that would retain the best of the market, while offering universal coverage. It was defeated.
- Finally, in 2010, in one of the most dramatic congressional fights ever, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which expanded coverage to 30 million more Americans. President Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.
Two years later — 100 years after Teddy Roosevelt pressed for a national health care program — the Supreme Court has levied its judgment: States can opt out, but they cannot prevent the nation from offering its citizens the health and care worthy of every human being made in the image of God.
What does this mean for Jesus followers?
In my book, Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, I ended my chapter on Health Reform with a reflection on Matthew 6:24 where Jesus said:
"No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
In the same way that Chief Justice John G. Roberts served the Constitution and forsook ideological loyalty to the states rights mantra, followers of Jesus are called to bow to God and forsake our ideologies.
Jesus reminds us that our Creator requires supreme loyalty. If we claim to follow Jesus, then we are to be slaves to the God who "made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry." (Psalm 146:6-7).
If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then we must be slaves to the God who protects and cultivates the lives of people made in his image as he "opens the eyes of the blind" and "lifts up those who are bowed down" (Psalm 146:8) — slaves not only in our individual morality, but also in our votes.
Twelve-million Americans still remain uninsured or underinsured today. Now is the time for fight for them.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author ofLeft, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politicsand author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat