A video of me questioning Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) about how her party will replace the Affordable Care Act went viral last Friday. I had gone to her town hall meeting on Thursday near my home to ask what the poor and sick would do once they’re left without the law’s protections. The next night, I had the really weird experience of seeing myself on national television, and the even weirder experience of hearing and reading other people’s interpretation of my own words. My town hall question has been described as a “Christian defense of Obamacare” and “an impassioned case for the ACA’s individual mandate.”
But the truth is that I do not actually believe that the ACA is the best way to insure people. In fact, I am ashamed and afraid that this video might have done more harm than good. In my view, Christians shouldn’t be satisfied with health-care policy that leaves anyone out, especially those who need care most but can afford it least. Christians should support a universal, single-payer system.
I know what it’s like to need a hand. I grew up on an Appalachian hillside in a run-down trailer home with my mom and my two siblings. My mom was orphaned at a very young age, and we had no other family to help us, so we relied almost exclusively on government assistance to survive. Our little church had a van that would pick us up on Sunday, but that’s about all the charity that it could afford. We collected aluminum cans to exchange, walked for hours to and from the grocery store and wrapped up household items in old coupon ads to give to each other as Christmas presents. At age 12, I helped my grandfather, who had suffered a stroke, to walk to and from the bathroom because he and my grandmother couldn’t afford home health care. We were industrious and thrifty like the majority of people receiving government assistance who are working to barely get by. Growing up, I was surrounded by Christians whose politics informed their faith, not the other way around — conservatives who expect poor churches and charities to look after their poor congregations while wealthy people live in luxury.
But my mom cared about politics, especially issues affecting the working class: She used to tell us that Jesus didn’t just love the poor — he loved them more. I’ve always carried that message with me, and I’ve paid attention to politics on and off over the years. I was unhappy with the Bush administration, but when Barack Obama won the election in 2008, I assumed things would look up, and I stopped paying attention. I worked hard, went to school and did my best to give back to my community as a high school teacher — something I felt I had to do as a Christian. But this election startled me out of my complacency. I followed the Democratic primary closely and cast my vote for Hillary Clinton in the general, but I was horrified by the outcome. I realized that if people of faith want a moral government, we can’t rely on people who call themselves Christians to build one for us. We’ll have to do it ourselves.
That’s why I went to speak to my representative directly. When I got up to speak to Black, I was nervous. My question came out a little jumbled, and I did end up making a faith-based argument for the individual mandate portion of the ACA. I was simply trying to point out the hypocrisy of Republican politicians who claim to be Christians and yet, time and time again, advocate for policies that hurt people.
This wouldn’t be the first time Republicans, who so often campaign under the banner of Christianity, have hurt needy people. Republicans’ refusal to expand the Medicaid component of the ACA in various states solely in the name of politics punished some of our nation’s poorest and likely led to thousands of untimely deaths. This indefensible decision to withhold insurance to millions of people also likely led to an increase in premiums for many people who were insured not only through the public exchanges but also privately.
These were grave injustices, and rolling back the ACA will be another. But refusing to expand Medicaid and threatening to place vulnerable people into high-risk insurance pools are wrong in my view because Christianity calls on us to look after the weakest and neediest people, including the poor and sick. If I had a chance to address our leaders directly again, I would say this: Christianity demands that we make sure all people have health coverage. In other words, I would have focused instead on the Christian case for universal, single-payer health insurance, which would protect all Americans. And if Republicans want to campaign as Christians, they should lead the way.
In my view, it is immoral for health care to be a for-profit enterprise. Insurance companies are making enormous sums of money off the sick while people are struggling to pay their medical bills. Patients even die sooner when nonprofit hospitals switch to making money.
Switching to single-payer wouldn’t necessarily be easy: Perhaps the hardest part of the reorganization of our health-care system to single-payer would be asking physicians to make much less money than they do now. But the directive in Luke 12:48 states that “everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” America is one of the richest countries in the world. We have been given more than enough, and we need to share it with our most vulnerable. With what is left of the minute of fame that I have been given, I feel compelled to ask for forgiveness for not using my belief system to advocate more clearly for what I think is the best thing to do.