The New Values Voters: Health Care
By Eleni Towns
Caring for the sick and vulnerable is a core value in all major religions. That is one reason why faith-based organizations have played such a crucial role in providing health care in this country. From community clinics to large hospitals, they have long been on the front lines when it comes to caring for those in need. And in addition to providing direct services, faith leaders have advocated for health care reform, providing a moral vision that undergirds economic arguments for repairing a broken health care system.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we saw the challenges of transforming religious values and beliefs into legislation. The process was difficult at times, as faith communities had to reconcile their theological beliefs with the different views and beliefs of those with whom they work and serve. They also had to contend with hard-edged politics, clashing constituencies, vested interests, and political power.
The process of discerning how to be faithful and also serve the common good led to fierce debates within faith communities and the larger society. Some of those debates are still playing out more than two years after passage of the Affordable Care Act. Faith communities continue to champion health care reform, however, and are key actors in the public education and implementation of this law in the states.
Faith-based groups have long provided health care, especially to those who are poor, uninsured, and disenfranchised. Catholic hospitals today account for more than one-fifth of all admissions in the country. Muslim-run clinics in Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles serve all who come, regardless of ability to pay. In Washington, D.C., faith-based Columbia Road Health Services provides care to the area’s most vulnerable residents, regardless of their ability to pay. Likewise, Christ House, also in D.C., serves as a holistic infirmary that ministers to the needs of homeless men and women.
Faith communities have also spoken out for reforming our health care system, urging that it reflect the values of human dignity, shared responsibility, compassion, stewardship of resources, and concern for those who are vulnerable. Advocates for reform include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and others.
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