As an Anglican priest and a professor of theology it is not surprising to me that several folks have been sincerely interested in and, in some cases, sincerely perplexed by my recent, frequent and vocal support for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders as the Democratic party nominee in the race for President of the United States of America. Sanders, a political and social progressive is not usually associated with what people think of as the candidate of choice for a ‘religious’ person. Yet, while I certainly do not agree with all of his policies [but, who agrees with anyone 100% of the time?], and in some cases even oppose his positions [I’m pro-life] I, as a follower of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ find that Bernie’s commitment to universal healthcare, education, the environment, and a host of other issues best express what it means to be for humanity in the sacrificial way of the cross. I’ll list one reason that I support Bernie Sanders and the above issues which are so central to his platform. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive defense or explanation but rather a simple and concise case for the issue of healthcare in America and the position advocated by Bernie Sanders.
Healthcare Ought to Be Considered a Service and Not a Product
I and many, many others support a radical revolution in healthcare in the United States of America. Many of us are firmly committed to support this trajectory in American healthcare until the day we die. Those of us in this camp consider the current healthcare ‘business’ to be a systemic evil which, even under the Affordable Care Act, does not solve the problem of healthcare injustice and inequality in this nation. While Bernie’s plan to introduce a single payer system of universal healthcare into the United States may seem radical and bold to many, it really isn’t all that revolutionary or new. In many other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, this system works and has worked for decades, bringing quality healthcare to all, and transforming healthcare from a product that is bought and sold into a service that blesses the entire country. As a student in Scotland, my wife and I benefited greatly from the excellent service of the NHS, the national healthcare system in Scotland. My wife and I registered at the local hospital in St. Andrews upon arriving in the UK. We simply filled out a 3×5 card with our addresses, birth-dates, names and contact information, and we were granted instant access to full coverage and world-class care. Additionally, we received medication at no cost, because, in Scotland, even the medication is covered.
Prior to coming to Scotland, and after my wife graduated, we were in between health plans. At that time there was a freeze on the healthcare ‘connector’ in the US and no-one could sign up for healthcare. Because of this when we went to pick up a desperately needed prescription we were unable to afford the $500 price-tag. We opted instead, with the permission of our doctor (whose appointments cost us additional thousands of dollars) to order (legally) an older, outdated but affordable medication from Canada which ended up causing a severe allergic reaction (presumably the reason the medication was generally speaking out of use in the States). Fast-forward to our return to the United States after completing my Ph.D. Living in Boston, adjuncting at Gordon Conwell and leading worship at Park Street church I made a total of $22,000 for a family of three. Thankfully, Massachusetts had and still has excellent emergency healthcare for those living under the poverty line called MassHealth. The only problem with this system is that you must remain perpetually poor to receive it. As I considered taking a job in a warehouse which was walking distance from where I was living, in addition to my teaching and worship gig while searching for full time employment in my field [education], I realized that I would make, with those three jobs a total of $35,000. Then, I would be off of MassHealth and able to buy my own insurance through the healthcare marketplace. Only, this was not necessarily good news. We’d end up spending half of our income on a basic healthcare plan, with high deductibles, that was inferior to the excellent care we were receiving at no cost under MassHealth. It would perhaps be worth it if our total income was reasonable, say, $80,000. But when the totality of your income is a max of $35,000, this means that it is financially more wise to remain poor until you find a job that pays a suitable wage and hopefully includes health insurance, which is a miserable place to be.
Then, finally, thanks be to God, I got hired at my current job with excellent pay and benefits. The crisis was over. Or was it? It seemed over until we received our first bill of thousands of dollars that the insurance company billed to us because they determined we didn’t need the treatment that our doctors had ordered and which we so desperately needed. Finally, after ten different tries by our physician who argued vigorously on our behalf for the need of the treatment, the insurance company acquiesced and covered the treatment. Victory!….until we received yet another bill, which even though the hospital was in-network, was not going to be covered by insurance. Over six thousand dollars later, the family with full health insurance coverage was still getting steamrolled by the systemic evil of corporate America under the disguise of the healthcare ‘service’ industry. We recently discovered that the cost of a medication that we require is $500 Canadian dollars, while here in the United States it costs a whopping $13,000 USD. To me this is a massive, systemic evil that perpetuates financial, spiritual and physical poverty.
If we really are called to love our neighbor, this means not only being nice to them, but bearing their burdens, to use the words of Paul and Jesus. The burden-bearing love of Jesus does not result in a complacency in regard to the care of others, it issues forth in sacrifice for the sake of the other; it goes to every extreme to extend the love of God to the other because of the dignity and worth of all human beings made in the image of God. For the follower of Jesus, your money isn’t yours to hoard and to protect, it is yours to steward and invest. Yet, that investment can never be an investment in one’s own kingdom and castle while our neighbors sleep in a ditch, or loose their house over a medical bill, or go to bed with an empty stomach. The love of Christ compels me to join with those—many of whom have no religious basis for their support of universal healthcare—in re-imagining and revolutionizing healthcare in America. It is most definitely not ‘free’ healthcare. Rather, the cost is derived from a large mass of people—eventually the majority—committing to be for each other, instead of for themselves. While I respect others who see this as a private affair, the fact of the matter is, the revolution in healthcare that is required is so radical and so extensive that it has not and will not occur unless we completely overhaul the system and approach. We don’t need a mere reform, we need a revolution. We need a completely socialized healthcare service that honors our citizens and cares for all. Bernie is fighting for this, and to be honest it will likely take more than one president to make any substantial progress in this area. It might take seven! But, the sooner we pursue this change as a nation, together, the sooner America will become a more just and compassionate, Christlike society.