By Jim Wallis 3-17-2017

Health is very personal, for all of us. In fact there are few things more important in life than health, family, and faith. Especially as you get older, which I understand better and better each year, health issues increase and can make you feel very vulnerable — even if you have health insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, you are more than vulnerable — you are in great danger. 

On a personal level, I have been though serious prostate cancer, the diagnosis and treatment of which was only made possible by my health provider and the NIH, where I was sent for surgery. If I was on my own, without health insurance and connections to great doctors, I would likely be dead by now, given how far along my prostate cancer had gotten before it was discovered. It would likely have been discovered and treated too late. I would be gone, and Joy, Luke, and Jack would be without a husband and father.

Even with health insurance, you can feel very vulnerable when you have health issues. I can testify to that, too — I even have a doctor’s appointment today as I write this column. My health is good, and I hope will continue to be. But with health issues and without health insurance and secure health care, you are in a terrible, risky condition every day. And now, because of the new health care bill being proposed by GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump, many people will be threatened with great danger. And the poor and most vulnerable will be in the greatest danger.

This is not just a political and partisan issue. These are literally matters of life and death. The facts show that these cuts could kill. One example: by dramatically reducing access and affordability of drug addiction treatment for Medicaid recipients — in other words, the poor — in the midst of a deadly opioid epidemic that has devastated so many communities that voted overwhelmingly for the current president.

And when cutting health insurance coverage for the poor is combined with slashing taxes for the rich — which this bill undeniably does — it exposes a moral juxtaposition that is a fundamental biblical contradiction.

And that makes me conclude that the new health care bill being pushed by Republican leaders and the president is sinful

The ACA clearly needs to be fixed, repaired, and reformed. But this new bill will make the lives of many people much worse, while making the rich even richer. And that is clearly wrong.

Here are the facts: 

According to the CBO (the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, whose current leader was appointed by Republican congressional leaders), 24 million people will lose health coverage because of this bill, and 14 million would be cut from Medicaid, the program that covers the poorest and most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Overall, states would be forced to absorb $880 billion in Medicaid cuts to prevent the reduction or elimination of Medicaid services, something states are in no position to do according to governors from both parties. The bill would cut almost $900 billion from Medicaid over ten years, mostly to pay for changes that would benefit high-income people and corporations.   

And in a morally shocking move, it is not just the poor, but the older and sicker poor people who will fare the worst under the new law.

And as FiveThirtyEightpoints out

It was already clear from the GOP bill that poorer, older and more rural people would receive less help buying insurance, while wealthier, younger people would receive more. The CBO drew the same conclusions and reported that those differences would likely shift who gets coverage. For example, in 2026, 21-year-olds would likely pay less for coverage under the Republican plan because premiums would be cheaper, even if they received fewer subsidies. But a 64-year-old who earned $26,500 per year would have to pay an estimated $14,600 under the GOP plan — compared with $1,700 under the current law. (Emphasis mine.) 

The Medicaid cuts are of primary concern to anyone who views the Scriptures as commanding us to care for the poor, and for anyone who believes the God of the Bible requires that we prioritize the poor and vulnerable. This is the exact opposite of how people are prioritized today in the Congress and the White House. By eliminating the Medicaid expansion and cutting current subsidies, the new bill jeopardizes the health care of millions of individuals whose lives are already a struggle. 

Getting down into the weeds — which we need to do on important policy matters like this one — we see how changing the Medicaid program from an entitlement to a "per capita cap" would fundamentally undermine our ability to provide health care to the poor. The bill would reverse the expansion of Medicaid to people just above the poverty line. And for the even poorer people who would still qualify, Medicaid will no longer respond to need (rising health care costs, for example, or the aging of our nation’s population). Federal funding would be capped, so states would, over time, reduce benefits and cover even fewer people. The American Health Care Act would eliminate the requirement that states provide mental health and addiction services under Medicaid at a time when millions of Americans struggle with a growing opioid epidemic among other mental health challenges. And, again, it would do all of this while cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

And that is indeed, sinful — if we take sin seriously. 

To those he called "blessed," Jesus said as clearly as he could, "I was sick, and you took care of me."

But to those he promises judgement, Jesus says, "For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison, and you did not visit me." The Scripture passage continues:

The people then asked, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?" In reply, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me."

I am an evangelical Christian — which means, among other things, is that I take biblical authority seriously and try to treat what the Bible says and means literally. I think Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 are meant literally — that we will be judged by Christ for how we treat and care for the poor and sick. And because this health care bill will make the sick even sicker, hurt the poor most of all, and will cause more sick people to die, this health care bill is contrary to the teachings of Christ, and will be judged by him.

The Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament are clear that nations will be judged by the standards of righteousness, and not just individuals. All the members of the House and Senate who would vote for this bill as it is now, especially those who call themselves Christian, should have to answer for how they will vote and for what this bill will do to the poor and the sick, in light of Jesus’s words of judgment in the gospel of Matthew. 

Therefore, millions of us Christians will oppose this health care bill. We will call our political representatives — our congressperson in the House of Representatives, and both of our senators. We will light up their phone lines, fill their e-mail boxes, visit them in their local and Washington offices, and send our top faith leaders to Washington to pray and hold vigil and speak publicly and visibly for health and justice.

This is a time for people of faith to speak and to act. 

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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