Is Health Care truly a crisis?

Last summer (2005) at Charlotte, the delegates to the Mennonite Church USA Assembly agreed that the issue of health care merited study in our congregations. To date less than 100 congregations have given Healing Healthcare any attention. I wonder why?The statistics are that 47 million people in our country lack basic health care coverage in the event of serious illness. But when we recently announced a breakfast for pastors and others to discuss the issue (albeit without a lot of lead time), about a dozen of us gathered, including two FMC staff and a denominational staff person (Dr. Glen Miller) for this conversation. I wonder why?

Glen Miller reports that 18,000 people in the US died last year because they did not have access to health care, and millions of Americans are one illness away from financial disaster. Apparently that is not a crisis in most of our congregations. One FMC pastor reported that health care is a weekly challenge in his congregation. But most of us express interest without alarm about the health care situation in our nation. I wonder why?

We have all this talk about being missional and reaching beyond ourselves as churches. I plead guilty to being one of the spokespersons for this topic. So who are we reaching in our missional efforts? Is it mostly people like us who already have our health care needs well cared for? Congregations can’t be faulted for homogeneous outreach since these represent the most natural relationships for most of us. But what about the larger culture around us and the families that have no access to care? Might these people also become part of our outreach and mission?

I confess too often I have been blasé on this issue. If the truth is known, I have Medicare plus a supplementary plan that makes going to the doctor and the eventually of a hospitalization seem almost “painless,” at least in terms of finances. My wife’s health care is covered by the church where she pastors. My children are covered through employers. So the temptation to relax and assume the world is in good shape is strong. But is everything really well?

I am told we are the only developed nation in the world that does not provide healthcare to all its citizens. And the care we do receive does not rank in the top 20 nations in the world. It costs more than twice as much as the health care costs in other developed countries. What’s wrong with this picture? I realize the healthcare challenge is huge, complex, and often overwhelming. But are we really permitted to sit on the side and not let our voice be heard for those who lack healthcare coverage, even if our system is less than perfect?

I waver between hope and despair on this issue. My hope grows when Glen Miller puts the dilemma into language and stories that I can understand. Beyond optimism, I find hope when church people verbalize concern and intentions to address this large society challenge. I despair when I sense the magnitude of the challenge, how deeply entrenched most of us are in the status quo of our economy and healthcare system, and how out of touch we are with the needs that I suspect are very close home if we only knew.

Personally I wish that many more congregations would choose to make Healing Healthcare: A Study and Action Guide on Healthcare Access in United States a study in their churches, not as a dutiful assignment from the denomination, but as a missional action in behalf of people nearby or distant from us who are outside the loop on healthcare. None of this speaks to the needs of the so-called “third world.” And it doesn’t begin to address how to shift the political environment toward significant change on this issue.

But to start we at least need to begin to talk about the issue. Maybe from such dialogue something will emerge. Theologically communication seems to be God’s thing – coming as The Word. Maybe through our words God will act again in some incarnate way to improve the health of others, even if right now we feel pretty content. Is that too much to hope and pray for?