Christian Belief and American Health Care


On Broadway, two blocks from my apartment, is one of those hole-in-the wall grocery stores that are abundant in Manhattan. Along its front is a display of fruits and vegetables. Across the sidewalk is a kiosk that sells candy, magazines, and lottery tickets. Next to the kiosk, a man I suppose to be in late middle age sits on an upturned plastic crate facing the store. He’s almost always there when I pass by, and I do that fairly often.

Sometimes I say hello to him, and sometimes he asks for spare change, and sometimes I give him a buck.

I don’t know anything about this man. Not his name and not how he meets his daily needs. But I make some reasonable guesses.

I’m pretty sure he isn’t homeless. I think he lives in one of the subsidized single-room-occupancy residences in the neighborhood. He may drink too much and smoke pot a lot, but I’ve never seen him doing it. He never acts out or makes any kind of trouble. More than anything, he seems aimless and lacking a life beyond sitting on a crate nodding at passersby and asking now and them for a handout. A decent life has just – how to put it – passed him by.

Men and women like him are as numerous as the grubby little shops they loiter near. They are not unique to New York, of course. They exist all over the country. There are more or less reliable tabulations of the homeless; we know how many people are in various ethnic groups; zip code by zip code, the working poor, the unemployed, the number of people with college degrees have been counted. But I doubt anyone knows the number of people like the man I’m talking about. It seems they are too insignificant to count.

I think about them when I see news reports of Republican efforts to deny them Medicaid unless they start working twenty hours a week and can verify it. The man on my corner might as well be required to play professional baseball. He probably can’t read well enough to fill out a job application, I doubt he’s had a job in years, his English is so-so.

Even with Medicaid coverage, his health care is as minimal as the reimbursement rate to providers. Without Medicaid, his situation will be still more dire. When he has an urgent or emergent need, he’ll make his way to an emergency room at a hospital or clinic, where his treatment will be the equivalent of a band aid and an aspirin.  He’ll return to his seat on the sidewalk with less bothersome symptoms – maybe – but with his dismal prospects of future good health unchanged.

In this richest of all countries, that is morally deplorable. It is also economically shortsighted; instead of his care being paid for by government funded insurance (Medicaid), the institutions who treat him will have to absorb the cost of his care on their own.

To me, the work requirement is objectionable for still another reason. The Republicans who favor it are often the same ones who flaunt their Christian faith and campaign on the belief that America is a Christian nation. They clearly did not go to the same Sunday school I went to or listen to the same sermons I hear or follow the same Jesus I do The Jesus I follow commanded us to heal the sick. No qualifying. No questions asked. Some form of universal health care is a Christian’s obligation. It is not Christian to support a system in which billionaires pay little tax, even unthinkable as it is, sometimes none at all, while the man who sits on the crate on my corner and millions like him are denied good medical care.



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5 thoughts on “Christian Belief and American Health Care

  1. Julia Beamish


    Have you read Marion Wright Edelman’s short book, The Measure of Our Success? She argues that the state of our children is a reflection of the state of our society… much as you can argue that the way we treat the poor and ill is a measure of our success.

  2. judy linsley

    You’re exactly right, Paul. I cannot imagine any Christian denomination that could justify denying such people medical care. As you say, my Jesus didn’t teach that.

  3. Mary Jane Wilkie

    The very wealthy who withhold benefits probably heard the same sermons and Bible readings as I did. I recall hearing what Margaret Thatcher said about The Good Samaritan. Commenting on the fact that he paid the bills for the man victimized by robbers, she said, “Thank goodness he had the money to pay for it.” Same story, different reactions.


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