The Biblical Model for a National Health Care Plan

What was the reason for all of the battles on Capitol Hill between Democrats and Republicans over national health care reform? The Democrats effectively halted the Republicans' version and their 60-vote margin made it “filibuster-proof” made it virtually impossible for the Republicans to pass their own version. President Obama declared that he wanted to force the health care reform bill through Congress, with or without Republican support.

What put both parties at odds are that the Republicans do not favor the government-funded public health insurance option that could serve as an alternative for private insurers. The Obama Administration and Democratic leaders do. The Republicans favored the idea of using non-profit cooperatives that could negotiate collective policies for members and the idea of allowing states to create their own health care reforms while also letting families and businesses pool resources for larger, less expensive health care plans. The Administration and the majority of Democrats opposed this idea. And that was essentially the roadblock for ratification of the bill.

This nation has undergone the most sweeping health care reform that it has ever undertaken. What will this mean to those without insurance? What will the effects be on those who already have good health insurance coverage? What about those presently on Medicaid or Medicare? And, what does the Bible say about healthcare for the nation and for the individual?

With the Administration’s version of the health care reform bill passed, this could effectively stop the options that families, businesses and states want to form large cooperatives. These large cooperatives are an effort to slow down or even reduce the cost of medical insurance and health care. Fewer options for the insured could mean more control for insurance providers. More control for insurance providers has the potential of increasing the costs of health care and of insurance premiums because the consumer will have fewer options.

The Bible does not specifically address health care in a national basis, nor did God necessarily mandate a national health care plan for the nation of Israel as a national entity. However, God did command his nation to care for the poor and needy, as seen in the example of Leviticus 23:22, saying “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God” (NIV here and elsewhere). But what about providing for the sick and injured? James 5:15-16 states that it is up to us: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” And Ecclesiastes 1:9 says “My son, in thy sickness do not get impatient, but pray to the Lord, and he shall heal thee.”

Genesis 48:1 records the first record of anyone every becoming sick in the Bible. It is when Jacob was very old and became sick. His response was to move his family to Egypt where there was better care, like in the land of Goshen. There, Jacob’s family had plenty of food during the famine and there was better land for crops and livestock. And Exodus 23:25 and Deuteronomy 7:15 revealed that God would prevent diseases and illnesses by their obedience to His laws, however, the concept of loving your neighbor as yourself is recorded from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible and this is as close as the Bible gets to a national healthcare plan. And this same healthcare plan is valid for Christians today. They are commanded to love their neighbors as themselves. A person who loves their own self will make certain that they have proper medical attention and enough money to pay for their prescriptions. Biblically speaking, this love of our neighbor as ourselves includes the neighbor’s needs, just as we fulfill our own needs. The two are intertwined. They are mutually inclusive. What this means is that your own needs and your neighbor’s needs are all related and inter-dependent upon one another. That’s what is meant by Jesus imperative command to love your neighbor as yourself.

God’s Word repeatedly indicates that the poor and needy are required to be provided for. The Laws of God indicate His passion for this group in society to be provided for, because the poor and needy, which most certainly include the elderly and sick, are mentioned over 300 times in the Bible. Deuteronomy 15:7states that “If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” This does not say to give this poor man bread or shelter, but what is “sufficient for his need”. This includes anything “whatever he lacks”. And this direct command is not given to the nation but to each individual of the nation of Israel and there is no reason to believe that this does not apply to Christians today. It is decidedly not a federal or national mandate, but a mandate given to individuals directly by God.

Giving generously for what is “sufficient” means that family members, neighbors and friends are to be part of the health care system of their own neighbors, not only part of a food bank or shelter provider. Jesus said the greatest commandments are for us to love God and to love our neighbor, as ourselves. Jesus never said it is up to us to decide who needs our care and who does not, He simply said our neighbor, regardless if that neighbor is a Christian or not, or a member of our church or not. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example (Luke 10:25-37). And our neighbor does not only mean those next door, for the Good Samaritan did not live next door to the one he helped. In fact, he was a stranger to him. And if we are commanded to even love our enemies, then how can we not love own neighbors (Matt. 5:44)? Therefore, we ourselves are a part of the national healthcare.

The Bible clearly says we can’t simply ignore what we consider the “least of these” because we may also need this care someday (Matthew 25:35-36). It’s inconvenient and out of comfort zone, yes, but Jesus did not intend for us to help others only when it is convenient or “I’m going that way anyway”. Much of the gap in healthcare providers and coverage is for home health care, which for us being a neighbor, would be a great opportunity to show the love of God. We could close the gap on home providers. We could pay for that prescription that they could not afford to buy. That is the very work of the gospel, evidenced by Jesus feeding the masses and healing those who were sick.

A national healthcare plan, with a rapidly aging population of over 300 million, is going to be pushed to the limits with our present day health care availability. But when neighbors share the burden, millions are divided into the few. Why can’t we be that gap in coverage between insurance and our neighbor’s inability to cover their own gap? Jesus associated the Kingdom of Heaven with taking care of those inside and outside of it. This means those in the church and those outside of the church; both by feeding them and by healing them. He did not discriminate by serving and feeding only those who are in the Kingdom, or those who were Jews. It is easy to say, oh, the poor widow’s mite is not enough to pay for her prescription. This is what James was writing about in 2:16, “If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” It is clear from scripture, from Old to New Testament, that we are our brother’s keepers.

Is there anyone we know who can’t afford to pay for their prescriptions in our own church and in our own neighborhood? What about those who have no means to make it to their doctor’s appointments? Do we know our neighbors well enough to know who does and who does not have health insurance? What about the original support system of our own extended family? If our hearts are truly committed to being part of God’s command to care for the poor and need, these things should be part of our concern.

Is a health care provision to all in our society is a moral imperative? It appears that it is, but on an individual basis. That is, we are part of that provision, for the government may or may not have sufficient means to provide for them. James, the brother of Jesus says about the needy in 2:14-16 that, “If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.”

Again James writes (2:1-9) “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here's a good seat for you,‘ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

We can not be utterly dependent upon government subsidies or a national healthcare plan to cover our own neighbors. As I said earlier, we are part and parcel of that mandate from God to love our neighbor as ourselves. When was the last time you didn’t fill your own prescriptions when you had the means to do it? This is exactly what Jesus meant by loving your neighbor as your own self.

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